Mars mission, that was operational for 15 years and delivered a treasure trove of invaluable information, is now officially complete, Nasa announced. Opportunity, an iconic Mars rover, has received first-class credentials for transforming human knowledge about the red planet and the Earth itself. Earth’s last contact with Opportunity was registered some eight months ago. Since then, it has remained unresponsive and silent. The robot went defunct after getting damaged in a dust storm. Nasa made one last attempt to contact the robot this week, but it turned out to be fruitless.
In spite of the mission’s end, the general mood at Nasa was celebratory. Its chiefs said that the mission, which was launched back in 2004, was instrumental in acquiring crucial space engineering skills and discoveries as well as gaining unique insights into what Earth’s neighborhood with Mars meant.
Opportunity was not the first robot to land on Mars. Its twin rover, Spirit, has also arrived in 2004, but got defunct a few years later after getting stuck in the dust. Opportunity has persevered, though. It went on exploring the surface of Mars and sending back scores of invaluable data. It exceeded all expectations: Opportunity has traveled some 45 km, while in fact it was built to endure only 1 km and function for less than 100 Martian days (1 Martian day is 25 hours long). Nasa scientists said they never expected the rover to last that long, given how dusty Mars was. Solar panels were supposed to get covered in a thick layer of dust and go dead very quickly. Surprisingly, that did not happen, because Martian winds had been removing the dust from the equipment periodically. This allowed Opportunity to last for 15 years.
It could not outlast a massive dust storm, though, researchers said. At some point, the sky went completely dark, obscuring the sun, and robot’s batteries were unable to receive solar power crucial to recharging the panels and equipment. Shortly after, the robot, lovingly referred to by the team as Oppy, went dead.
Earth owes Oppy a great deal of vital knowledge. It confirmed a hypothesis that Mars was once covered with water. It sent back the images of a meteorite, the first one recorded on another planet. It made panoramic shots of Martian dust devils and craters. Perhaps most importantly, it inspired hundreds of people to take the scientific paths in their careers.
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