Tracks left on Mars by the Opportunity rover, photographed on November 12, 2013.
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A brutal dust storm engulfed Mars perfect summer season. The planet-wide tempest spared the nuclear-powered Curiosity rover, however the older, solar-powered Opportunity rover shut down because the thick dust blocked gentle from the Sun. Opportunity has remained restful since June 10, 2018, no topic NASA’s heaps of of makes an are trying to contact it. When a windy season on Mars began in November, scientists hoped that gusts would possibly perchance perchance tremendous debris from its solar panels, but that hope looks to had been in useless. NASA continues to ship restoration instructions, but sadly, it looks the Opportunity mission has ultimately attain to an discontinue.

At the same time, 2019 marks a historic milestone for the rover, which officially reached its Fifteenth One year on Mars on January 25. This far exceeds the rover’s initial anticipated lifespan of 90 days. Along with the Spirit rover, whose discontinue got here attend in 2010, the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission marks one amongst the biggest scientific applications of the fresh generation, discovering evidence that Mars was as soon as covered in liquid and sending attend iconic photography of the planet’s ground.

In honor of Oppy’s Fifteenth birthday, and with the details that we would possibly perchance also honest by no draw hear from the rover over again, we asked some scientists from the MER mission and in varied places to share their thoughts and memories about Opportunity, Spirit, and their legacy.

Steve Squyres, predominant investigator of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER) and professor at Cornell University:

I haven’t given up yet. We now safe a record of issues to are trying, and we’re now not done unless we are trying the whole lot on it. But we’re getting in direction of the backside of the record, so it’s a suitable time to launch occupied with these issues. As far because it feels, it in actuality feels perfect-looking… It’s an honorable death. [The rovers] aren’t immortal. that you just’re going to lose them in some unspecified time in the future. To safe a 90-day mission perfect for 15 years, after which discontinue as a of a one amongst essentially the most ferocious dust storms to hit Mars in a in actuality lengthy time, we can stroll away with our heads held high. The mission exceeded far beyond what I’d also safe anticipated.

The legacy is difficult… The legacy is the legacy of both Sprit and Opportunity, and the spirit and the legacy of the personnel that constructed them in the fundamental trouble, the personnel of engineers, scientists, managers, leaders, and financial folks. The explanation it’s been this form of success is thanks to what they did 15 years ago. That’s where the credit belongs.

On the scientific legacy, Mars turned out to be a essential extra interesting trouble than I anticipated. It changed the vogue folks watch at Mars. The three landings that preceded ours had been all on these flat, barren plains—on cause—on story of they had been the most receive places to land. That’s all of the land we saw. That’s what acquired me so occupied with doing a rover mission. We now safe these small scenic rovers which safe climbed mountains and descended into craters. Mars has seriously change a staunch scenic, dazzling, interesting trouble in the sense that you just would possibly perchance also assume being there and walking in the rovers’ tracks and seeing what they’ve viewed. That adjustments our perspective.

The third fragment of the legacy is the enact these missions safe had on kids. For sure one of my fondest desires, and I know this has potentially came about, is an eight-One year-mature who watched tv in 2004 the evening we landed and notion to themselves, “Whoa, I notify that’s wintry, but I will carry out better.” I peep evidence that the mission has done that to about a level, animated children to pursue careers in science, engineering, and abilities with their hold desires.

Mosaic selfie shows Opportunity’s dust-free solar panels in December 2004.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

Kirsten Siebach, planetary geologist, Rice University:

These rovers had been the trailblazers. They’d a huge affect. Having Opportunity on Mars has supposed that we now safe unique photography from the ground of one more planet since I was in high college. Our figuring out of Mars has expanded, and I notify that’s at all times maintained a level of excitement and ardour. It’s been an inspiration for those of us engaged on Mars, college students, and anyone in the final public following alongside. It makes Mars accessible and shut-by… I notify the legacy is serious for the premise of exploration, and motivating a abilities to assume we’re so shut to one more planet, and that we’re persevering with to search out the Photo voltaic Machine and studying fresh issues daily…

Each person talks regarding the unbelievable engineering that lets in us to safe a robot riding on one more planet with out a mechanic in absurd stipulations for 15 years. That’s a fantastic accomplishment. But for me and the folk on the personnel, there’s all of those 15 years. There had been folks here on Earth on science and engineering teams getting collectively three to 5 cases a week addressing the event from the day earlier than, and in moderation programming what Opportunity would carry out day after recently. For that personnel, it’s extra than perfect-looking a robot, and we’ll recede out it…. It’s been a form of enjoyable to work on, we’re ecstatic it’s been so a success. And that level of dust was positively an honorable death if we don’t hear from it over again.

Kevin Lewis, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University:

I’m hoping Opportunity comes attend on line! I was on the MER personnel attend in grad college (2003-2009), which is a testomony to how lengthy the mission lasted—15 years is set three consecutive Ph.D lengths! Opportunity was doing huge science up unless it misplaced contact, and exploring unique rock items that it by no draw will need to had been ready to achieve by its long-established safe parameters. Every Spirit and Opportunity wholly revolutionized the vogue we feature out science on Mars, and it is staunch to utter that we haven’t got Curiosity with out the overwhelming successes of the MER mission. Spirit and Opportunity *figuratively* cleared the course for Curiosity and future rovers all the draw in which through the Photo voltaic Machine, through their groundbreaking technical and scientific achievements.

Opportunity captured photography of Martian clouds passing overhead on October 2, 2006.
GIF: NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell

Tanya Harrison, planetary scientist and director of review at Arizona State University’s Situation Skills and Science Initiative, and science personnel collaborator on the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity:

Opportunity wildly surpassed any expectations we would also safe had for her. She unlocked the thriller of the hematite signal detected from orbiters earlier than her, taught us about both watery and windy past stipulations on Mars, and drove farther than every other rover beyond Earth. Despite what the Red Planet regarded as if it will throw at her, she and her colorful personnel of engineers managed to search out a mode spherical it—unless this perfect world dust storm. But it’s perfect becoming that the thing that was ultimately ready to grab Oppy out was the strongest dust storm we’ve ever seen on Mars. Now she can be able to rest, luminous she did humanity proud as our small robotic emissary.

Ashwin Vasavada, Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity rover challenge scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

The Opportunity rover was a staunch inspiration for me against the event of the Curiosity rover, on story of it showed how a digital discipline geologist in actuality would possibly perchance perchance also portion collectively the story of an previous faculty setting by studying the narrative held in the rocks. Dilapidated water flowing across the ground, playas in between dunes, groundwater soaking the rocks, such perfect-looking stuff… it all saved me going against the toughest days of getting Curiosity to Mars.

Photos admire this, which inform formations seemingly created by flowing liquid, supplied scientists with clues to Mars’ wet past. Taken by Opportunity on July 17, 2004.
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

Emily Lakdawalla, senior editor of The Planetary Society:

Spirit and Opportunity in actuality blazed a brand unique course for public communications about an brisk science mission when Steve Squyres and Jim Bell made the likelihood to produce all of the photography in the market to the final public as soon as they arrived on Earth. They wished to be definite college students would possibly perchance perchance also work with the details, and that it didn’t need to be on some password-protected server… Jim and Steve acknowledged, “No, we need the final public to revel in the journey the same draw we are.” That decision was so visionary. It created this edifying world neighborhood of folk who had been ready to apply the on a long-established foundation dream of exploring one more planet through the eyes of Spirit and Opportunity. Of us would produce mosaics and animations, discuss about the rocks they had been seeing, and what the science personnel was doing. In a form of cases, folks in Europe would peep the photography earlier than the American personnel awoke—Squyres admire checking these forums on story of it was less complicated than coping with [the server].

Cassini’s personnel had no belief to share their photography in this draw. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), having viewed the Mars Exploration Rover mission acknowledged, good enough, we’re going to share Cassini’s photography as wisely. Many other missions adopted of their footsteps—all of the Mars-landed missions, admire Curiosity, Phoenix, and InSight. It’s influenced the European Situation Agency to be extra birth with their image data—their structure is varied than NASA’s structure, on story of the institutions originate and present the cameras—however the they had been ready to launch sharing a camera called the VMC that shares photography [from Mars] as rapidly as they hit Earth, and Rosetta shared their NavCam photography slightly snappy. Juno and Unique Horizons shared their data slightly snappy… It had a profound affect on the vogue missions shared their data with the final public.

I notify it’s roughly interesting that as soon as Opportunity on the muse went restful, a form of parents had been ready to write it off straight away. That can even honest had been a extra pragmatic thing to retain out, but it completely didn’t snatch into story the feeling of the folk who had been keeping this spacecraft alive for goodbye. I notify it’s crucial for the personnel to exhaust every possibility so they would perchance in actuality feel some closure on the mission. A few of them I’m obvious don’t are looking out for to renounce… It takes a huge emotional investment to retain these missions going. I notify I’m hoping Opportunity does surprise us and springs attend. I’m guessing it potentially acquired’t, and I’m sorry to the engineers for their loss. Of us will need to grab the time to mourn, and discover that it’s emotionally complicated.

Abby Fraeman, Opportunity rover deputy challenge scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

I’ll recede out, in the starting up, perfect-looking interacting with the personnel frequently. These folks had been engaged on this mission for a in actuality lengthy time, and even although folks safe left and others safe attain in, there’s this in actuality qualified sense of camaraderie. I will acknowledge every person by their tell. I know we can count on folks after we bump into challenges or complicated science questions. It’s in actuality enjoyable to work through all these complications with the folk fervent. I’ll also recede out waking up every morning and seeing what the rover sent down, what the most fresh photos are. On daily foundation you safe to peep something no human has ever viewed earlier than.

I in actuality safe a in actuality private story with the rover. I was in high college when Spirit and Opportunity landed. There was a program paddle by The Planetary Society called the Student Astronaut Program which introduced high schoolers out to JPL to be there the evening the rover landed. I was there the evening that Opportunity landed, and it was a fantastic abilities that impressed me to accelerate into planetary science.

The vogue both Spirit and Opportunity transformed Mars science was slightly profound… It gave us a brand unique perspective on this planet we didn’t safe in the One year 2000. The rovers had been sent to apply the water, and earlier than we accelerate there we didn’t safe any definitive evidence that there had ever been liquid water on Mars up to now. It was the fundamental photography from Oppy, and later photography from Spirit, that had been incontrovertible evidence that Mars had a varied local weather that would also give a purchase to liquid water on the ground. It opened a total unique parameter place for questions we would also quiz about Martian evolution. These questions had been answered by the Curiosity rover, a bigger unique rover with extra delicate instruments, and a few of them will seemingly be answered by the sample return missions; some will need future missions to respond to. We didn’t even know what inquiries to quiz earlier than we had the outcomes from Spirit and Opportunity.

I’m perfect-looking extremely delighted that it lasted as lengthy because it’s been. It’s a party for how a success and groundbreaking this mission was.

Opportunity’s shadow, November 26, 2014.
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech


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