“My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”
That’s (reportedly) the final message which the Opportunity rover sent to its handlers on Earth in June last year as a planet-wide dust storm engulfed it, and now eight months later NASA has announced that there’s no chance of the plucky little robot returning to life and the mission is therefore officially over.
We’re not crying, YOU’RE crying.
On Tuesday the team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory made their final attempt to restart it, but it was not to be. So Opportunity will now sleep forever its accidental-but-amazingly-appropriate final resting place: Perseverance Valley, some 45 kilometres from where it landed in 2004.
To be fair, it was originally meant to do 90 days of roaming the Martian surface which it successfully stretched out to 15 years. So it had a good run.
The sub-zero temperatures of the planet meant that there was a finite amount of time before the electronics were literally frozen solid without the solar panels fuelling the rover’s internal heating.
The issue was that the solar panels which powered it were covered in dust, and with Mars a good deal further from the Sun than Earth the light reaching it was already a bit more feeble (although not diminished by things like an atmosphere, as we have on Earth).
Aside from operating longer and further than the wildest dreams of anyone it also did great science. It found minerals which only form in water, providing that the red planet once had liquid water on it, and took more than 217,000 photos – including that one above which IS HARD TO MAKE OUT THROUGH THE TEARS.
Rest well, little guy. You did good work.