Opportunity kept rolling along until last June, when a mammoth dust storm boiled up around the rover's digs on the rim of the 14-mile-wide (22 km) Endeavour Crater. NASA officials issued a final series of recovering commands on Tuesday, on top of 1,000 which have already been sent. The team at NASA had attempted to talk to Opportunity several times per week once the storm began to clear using the Deep Space Network, an global array of giant radio antennas supporting interplanetary spacecraft missions, and over 600 attempts were made without any response received.
"Spirit and Opportunity may be gone, but they leave us a legacy - and that's a legacy of a new paradigm for solar system exploration", Michael Watkins, the director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said Wednesday. "But what I suppose I'll cherish most is the impact Opportunity had on us here on Earth". "This is an emotional time".
Opportunity landed on Mars on January 24, 2004 PST, just three weeks after its identical twin, Spirit, reached the Red Planet's surface. The two far exceeded the goals of their creators: In theory, their missions were supposed to last 90 days. Previously InSight set up the seismometer on Mars to record the Marsquakes, and help scientists to understand how Mars and other rocky planets are formed. Rolling along until communication ceased last June, Opportunity roamed a record 28 miles around Mars and worked longer than any other lander.
Opportunity and its long-dead twin rover, Spirit, found evidence that ancient Mars had water flowing on its surface and might have been capable of sustaining microbial life. Thick dust darkened the sky last summer and, for months, blocked sunlight from the spacecraft's solar panels. Scientists judged that perhaps its internal clock was so scrambled that it no longer knew when to sleep to conserve energy or wake up to receive commands.
With project costs reaching about $500,000 a month, NASA decided there was no point in continuing.
Callas believes it is "good luck that we skirted so many possible storms" over the years. "Even though it's a machine and we're saying goodbye, it's very hard and very poignant".
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"We are doing everything in our power to communicate with Opportunity, but as time goes on, the probability of a successful contact with the rover continues to diminish".
"It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our fearless astronauts walk on the surface of Mars", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.
Cornell University's Steve Squyres, lead scientist for both Opportunity and Spirit, considers succumbing to a ferocious storm an "honorable way" for the mission to end.
Neither rover was created to endure extreme weather - unlike Nasa's nuclear-powered Curiosity rover, which continues to trawl Mars for information.
Three more landers - from the U.S., China and Europe - are due to launch next year.
"Here's, I think, an important thing to remember", Bridenstine told the AP. The mission began in the Eagle crater, and after studying nearby craters, the scientists chose to take a long journey to the much larger Endeavour crater.