Just as the whole world was about to celebrate the day of love, NASA said goodbye to one of its first-ever messengers which started humanity’s love affair with the Red Planet. Eight months ago, NASA lost contact with the ‘Opportunity’ rover on Mars, which had been exploring the planet’s surface since 2004. The solar-powered rover got trapped in a massive dust storm which cut off its energy supply. After the storm subsided, numerous efforts were made to power up the rover again but unfortunately to no avail. So after a period of almost 15 years exploring this unknown world, “Oppy” said its goodbyes.

Also known as MER-B (Mars Exploration Rover-B), Opportunity was launched on July 7, 2003. It landed on ‘Meridiani Planum’, a Martian plain stretch, three weeks after its twin rover “Spirit” (MER-A) landed on the other side of the planet. It was initially built and equipped to last 90 Martian days (a little over 90 Earth days). The reason behind how it lasted this long has no specific backing, although the team which worked continuously behind it deserves majority of the credit.

An artist’s portrayal of the Opportunity on Mars surface

It was probably due to this brave feeling of lasting longer than it was supposed to last, that the rover was made to work on even more challenging tasks. The journey which this precious rover took, which already included a record travelling distance on a foreign body, saw it doing feats which no other mission had done before. Some of these included the deep sand dunes it was made to travel through and the steepest descent that a rover has had to make on the planet’s surface.

The breakthroughs made in the different aspects of both Spirit and Opportunity’s mission have been vital for all the missions that have followed. Both of these rovers fulfilled their objectives of conducting important tests on the planet’s soil and rocks in the pursuit of knowing more about its past. The data obtained from the rather nervy, yet bouncy landings made by these twins helped the engineers at NASA create the Curiosity’s landing mechanism. The mechanism which pushed the very boundaries of engineering. Opportunity was the very definition of the extent and endurance that the human thirst for knowledge is made of.

Images of Oppy’s journey through the various Martian terrains.

Scientists have said that it is going to take decades more to make complete sense of all the data that Opportunity has sent over. Right now though, the folks at NASA are in a state of sad remembrance. The rover had now become like a friend with whom the whole crew kept exploring continuously. There have been instances where the operators said to have been living in Martian time, just because they would devote the whole of themselves on this. Even enthusiasts around the world paid their tributes to the departed rover with ‘#ThanksOppy’ trending all over social media. Many people of our generation have also grown up reading about the wonderful exploits of the twin rovers on the Martian surface.

So with a heavy heart, NASA has said goodbye to their old friend which will now succumb to the oncoming Martian winters. One of the last messages that was sent to Opportunity, during the wake-up instructions that were being passed, was the song “I’ll Be Seeing You”, by Billie Holiday. This was just another testament to how attached they were to this mission.

Interested to know more? Click here!

Leave a Reply