NASA sings requiem to Opportunity rover

Opportunity rover
Ths colorized image of the Opportunity rover’s shadow was taken on July 26, 2004, by the rover’s front hazard-avoidance camera as it moved farther into Endurance Crater in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Photo)

After months of silence from Mars, NASA finally read the rites over its Opportunity rover, hailing the six-wheeled machine as an overachiever that found some of the first and best evidence of the Red Planet’s warmer, wetter past.

The solar-powered rover’s demise was no surprise: It fell out of contact with controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., last June — due to a globe-girdling Martian dust storm that kept Opportunity from charging its batteries.

Mission managers tried all sorts of tricks to wake up the comatose rover and re-establish communications, but it was to no avail. The last attempt was made on the night of Feb. 12.

Today’s final Opportunity news briefing took on the trappings of a memorial service, featuring far more ceremony than NASA employed when the Spirit rover — Opportunity’s twin in the Mars Exploration Rover mission — went dead in 2011.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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