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NASA’s Opportunity rover is probably dead

Published Feb 13th, 2019 10:56AM EST
opportunity rover

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Many of NASA’s missions to explore and learn more about Mars have vastly exceeded expectations, and the Opportunity rover has long been its poster child. The rover, which was initially designed to last only three months after it touched down on the surface back in 2004. Instead, it spent a full decade and a half crawling across the Red Planet.

That is, until a planet-wide dust storm in mid-2018 brought things to a screeching halt. Now, with NASA having already exhausted its planned attempts to reestablish contact with the aging robot, NASA appears prepared to call a wrap on the Opportunity project.

Today, February 13th, at 2 p.m. EST, NASA will hold a press conference to “share results” of its multiple attempts to bring Opportunity back from the dead. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory hasn’t revealed exactly what will be discussed but it’s wildly assumed that the agency is prepared to declare Opportunity officially dead. The chat will be live streamed on JPL’s YouTube page.

The rover, which is solar powered, experienced a power failure and shut down when the massive dust storm cut off its view of the Sun. The darkness stretched on for months before eventually clearing, but the rover refused to wake back up even as the light returned.

It was thought that the rover’s solar panels may have been caked in dust, preventing it from gathering enough power to continue, but the windy season that followed the storm should have cleared things up. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and the rover remained silent.

It’s likely that the rover’s batteries, having already outperformed expectations by many years, couldn’t deal with the stress of the extended darkness and sitting, depleted, in the frigid cold. Repeated attempts to contact the rover have been met with only silence, and NASA can’t just keep pinging it forever.

We’ll learn more later today, but unless a last-second miracle managed to save Opportunity from its fate, it’s probably time to say farewell.