Opportunity dies an honorable death

This photo released Thursday, Feb. 5, 2004 made by one of the rear hazard-avoidance cameras on NASA’s Opportunity rover, shows Opportunity’s landing platform, with freshly made tracks leading away from it. Opportunity rolled about 11 feet on the first day it had moved since it left the lander a few days earlier.

It’s dead, Jim.

Almost 15 years to the day it first took its steps on Mars, the rover Opportunity is being declared dead.

NASA made one last call Wednesday morning to the rover and the result appears to be the same as the 835 calls that preceded it: silence.

A global dust storm struck Mars last June and that was the last anyone heard from the rover, which has been quietly doing its thing on that planet while we’ve been busy destroying ours.

The odometer on the rover hasn’t budged since summer: 28.06 miles.

Eulogies for Opportunity will be delivered by NASA during a 1 p.m. (CT) news conference.

People, at NASA’s urging, have been posting postcards to the fallen rover, one of two that landed the same month in January 2004.

Like its sister Spirit, Opportunity outlasted its plan 90-day mission. Spirit lasted for six months before it got stuck on a rock. Opportunity pressed on and found evidence of past water and evidence of a potentially habitable past.

“The water story just kept getting more and more interesting,” former Opportunity flight director Mike Seibert tells New Scientist. “Everything we take for granted about that planet basically changed in 2004.”

“If a spacecraft functions for 15 years and dies in one of the biggest dust storms Mars has seen in decades, that’s an honorable death,” says Steve Squyres, the lead scientist for Spirit and Opportunity.