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NASA will formally abandon Mars Opportunity mission

15 February 2019

NASA also operates two spacecraft on the surface of the red planet: the nuclear-powered Mars Curiosity rover, now in its seventh year of operation, and the stationary InSight lander, which touched down late last year.

The golf cart-size rovers were created to operate as geologists for just three months, after bouncing on to the planet inside cushioning air bags in January 2004.

John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project at JPL (NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory) said its achievements will go onto affect space exploration.

The rover reached Mars in 2004, but NASA lost contact with the vehicle a year ago following an epic dust storm that enveloped the red planet and prevented sunlight from reaching its surface.

The agency will have made one final attempt to contact its Opportunity Rover late last night US time (Tuesday), eight months after the spacecraft last made contact. Trundling along until communication ceased last June, Opportunity roamed a record 28 miles (45 kilometres) and worked longer than any other lander in the history of space exploration.

NASA made its last planned attempts to communicate with Opportunity late on Tuesday, but did not receive any response back. Its pioneering work paved the way for missions like Curiosity, the upcoming Mars 2020 and Rosalind Franklin rovers, and possible human exploration.

NASA's Opportunity Mars rover took this image of its own tracks on the rim of Endeavour Crater in June 2017.

Nasa's Opportunity rover was created to last only three months.

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Opportunity landed on January 25, 2004 and has been sending information on the geology and atmosphere of the Red Planet for scientists to study.

The rover's observations helped scientists build the case that Mars once hosted significant amounts of liquid water.

Now, Opportunity will join its counterpart rover Spirit - which landed in 2003 with an objective to search and categorise Martian rocks - in lying stationary on the planet.

"Larry was the planning lead for the missions, so he actually figured out where the rover was going to go", said Greenhouse.

Unlike NASA's nuclear-powered Curiosity rover still chugging along on Mars, Opportunity and Spirit were never created to endure such severe weather. "Now she can rest, beneath a thin layer of dust, knowing she did humanity proud", Tanya Harrison, director of research for the Space Technology and Science Initiative at Arizona State University and science team collaborator on Opportunity, told Astronomy.

Opportunity was originally designed for a 90-day mission but survived for almost 15 years.

Despite more than 600 attempts to make contact since then, a dedicated team of scientists and engineers will officially call time on Oppy's mission on Wednesday night.

And NASA's InSight spacecraft, the first robotic lander created to study the deep interior of a distant world, touched down safely on the surface of Mars in November with instruments to detect planetary seismic rumblings never measured anywhere but Earth. If you could stand on the surface of Mars right now and gave upon Opportunity, you'd find that its instruments were deployed just days before last contact, ready to do science.

NASA will formally abandon Mars Opportunity mission