An Article Report by Mitchell Philipp

For AP Computer Science A, Mr. Greenlee, 18 February 2019

On February 13, 2019, NASA sent final messages to the Opportunity Rover on Mars, affectionately referred to as Oppy. Oppy was first launched in summer, 2003, along with a sister rover, Spirit. Oppy landed on Mars in January 2004 with fuel enough to last 90 days. To everyone's surprise, both rovers lasted far longer. Spirit lasted for 6 years until eventually driving into a sand pit and losing power. Oppy, even more resilient, lasted a whopping 15 years, making her the longest running rover ever launched by NASA.

In June, Oppy encountered the largest dust storm ever observed on the surface of Mars, and went into hibernation mode to conserve power. Oppy had survived dust storms before, but this one was particularly strong. Researchers had hoped that after the storm ended, Oppy could get light on her solar panels again and get moving. Unfortunately, that never happened. The main theory is that Oppy's solar panels are too covered with dust to receive sunlight. NASA held out hope that a strong enough gust of wind might shake loose the dust and bring life back to Oppy, but the windy season on Mars has ended now, and Martian winter is approaching quickly. Oppy survived winter before when she could heat herself, but now she will get to such cold temperatures that her components will become brittle and she will inevitably suffer irreparable damage.

Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory spent the evening saying goodbye to Oppy and celebrating her many achievements over the years as the final messages were sent. She trekked over 25 miles across the Martian terrain, and was instrumental in the discovery that Mars was once host to large oceans.

As we look back on Oppy's legacy, it's plain to see she was one of NASA's greatest achievements. She lasted so much longer than anyone expected, and I think that same idea may apply to humans' exploration of space. We, like Oppy are resilient. Mars is a harsh climate, full of danger for a pioneering generation of humanity, but we are determined to prove ourselves as a species and inhabit the red planet. Oppy is an inspiration to those yet to come who, like Oppy, will have to endure in order to make great advancements in humanity's knowledge. I hope we are up to the task.

While waiting for Oppy to wake up, the engineers at NASA put together a playlist of themed wake-up songs they played each day they waited.


Expected Lifespan:

January, 2004 - April, 2004

Actual Lifespan:

January, 2004 - January, 2019

Primary Article: Loren Grush, "NASA is saying goodbye to its Opportunity rover on Mars after eight months of radio silence", The Verge, 13 February 2019, https://www.theverge.com/2019/2/13/18223144/nasa-mars-opportunity-rover-radio-silence-dust-storm-end-of-mission

Image Sources:

"Opportunity, Wake Up!" Playlist: https://open.spotify.com/user/space.com/playlist/50jcjl78RvcIgMdBM4qgFF?si=04hDbd5ISYSVotCwGGrReg