A brutal dust storm swallowed Mars last summer. The storm from the whole planet spared the Curiosity nuclear engine, but the older Opportunity solar engine closed because the thick dust blocked the light from the Sun. Opportunity is silent June 10, 2018, despite NASA's hundreds of attempts to connect to it. When the windy season on Mars began in November, scientists hoped that gusts could clear the debris from its solar panels, but that hope seemed to be in vain. NASA continues to send commands for recovery, but unfortunately it seems that the Opportunity mission is finally over.
At the same time, 2019 is a historic moment for the Rover, which officially reached its 15th year on Mars on January 25. This far exceeds the initial expected lifetime of the 90-day Rover. Together with Spirit's Mars, which ended in 2010, the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) marks one of the most important scientific programs of the modern era, finding evidence that Mars was once liquid-coated and sent back icons on the surface of the planet.
In honor of Oppy's 15th birthday and knowing that we will never hear from Roberta again, we asked some MER mission scientists and others to share their thoughts and memories of Opportunity, Spirit and their heritage. Steve Squires Principal Investigator of the Mars Study Mission (MER) and professor at Cornell University:
I have not given up yet. We have a list of things to test and we have not done until we try everything. But we get to the bottom of the list, so it's a good time to start thinking about these things. As far as he feels, he actually feels good … It's a decent death. [The rovers] are not immortal. You know that sooner or later you will lose them. To have a 90-day mission for 15 years, and then end one of the most fierce dust storms to hit Mars for a very long time, we can go with high heads. The mission surpassed much more than what I could expect.
Heritage is difficult … Heritage is both a legacy of both Sprit and Opportunity, and the spirit and heritage of the team that built them first. a team of engineers, scientists, managers, leaders and financial people. The reason to be so successful is because of what they did 15 years ago. This is where the credit belongs.
From the scientific heritage, Mars was a much more interesting place than I expected. This changed the way people look at Mars. The three sites that preceded ours were on these flat, infertile plains – deliberately – because they were the safest landing places. This is the whole land we have seen. It made me excited to do my job. We have these small picturesque rovers that climbed the mountains and dropped into craters. Mars has become a true scenic, beautiful, interesting place in the sense that you can imagine that you are there, and you are walking along the Rivers' slopes and seeing what they have seen. This changes our perspective.
The third part of the legacy is the effect these missions have on children. One of my favorite dreams, and I know this probably happened, is an 8-year-old who watches TV in 2004 when we landed and thought, "Wow, I think it's cool but I can do better, "I see evidence that the mission has done this to a certain extent, inspiring young people to pursue their career in science, engineering and technology with their own dreams.
Kirsten Ziebach Planetary Geologist, Rice University: were the princes. They have had a huge impact. Having the opportunity on Mars means we have new images from the surface of another planet since I was in high school. Our understanding of Mars has expanded, and I think this has always maintained a level of excitement and interest. This is an inspiration for those of us who work with Mars, students and everyone else in society. This makes Mars accessible and close … I think the heritage is important to the idea of exploring and motivating a generation to think that we are so close to another planet and that we continue to explore the solar system and learn new things every day …
Everyone talks about the incredible engineering that allows us to drive a robot to another planet without a mechanic in absurd conditions for 15 years. This is an amazing achievement. But for me and for the team, there are all these 15 years. There were people on Earth who were involved in scientific and engineering teams gathering three to five times a week to cope with the progress of the day before, and carefully program what they could do the next day. For this team this is more than a robot and we will miss it …. It was a lot of fun to work on, we are happy that it was so successful. And this level of dust is definitely an honorable death if we do not hear it again.
Kevin Lewis assistant at Johns Hopkins University:
I hope the Opportunity is back online! I was back in school at MER (2003-2009), which is proof of the duration of the mission – 15 years is about three consecutive PhD students! The opportunity has made great science until it has lost contact, and exploring new rock units that it should never have been able to reach through its initial design parameters. Both the Spirit and the Opportunity have fully revolutionized the way we deal with Mars science, and it is safe to say that we will not have Curiosity without the great success of the MER mission. Spirit and opportunities * shaped * paved the way for the curiosity and the future rovers in the solar system through their innovative technical and scientific achievements.
Tanya Harrison Arizona Research Director of the State University Space Science and Space Science Initiative and Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity Associate:
Opportunity surpasses all the expectations we could have for it. She unlocked the mystery of the hematite signal found by the orbits in front of her, learned about the watery and windy past conditions on Mars, and drove farther than any other rover outside Earth. Regardless of what the Red Planet seemed to throw on it, she and her clever team of engineers managed to find a way to get around it – to the last global dust storm. But it is appropriate that something that finally got Oppy out is the strongest dust storm we've ever seen on Mars. Now she can rest, knowing she is proud of humanity as our little robot-emissary.
Asvine Vasavadas Science Laboratory of Mars Science Laboratory at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory:
I during the development of Rover's Curiosity because it showed how the virtual geologist can really bring the story of an ancient environment, learning the record held in the rocks. Ancient water flowed over the surface, playgrounds between dunes, underground waters, soaked rocks, such good things … all this kept me in the hardest days to gain curiosity about Mars.