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Mars rover: Rover bites the dust on Mars, ending 15-year mission

14 February 2019

NASA's nuclear-powered Curiosity rover was created to endure severe weather but Opportunity and Spirit were not so the mere fact they lasted so long is testament of the durability of the models.

Opportunity sent back 217,594 images from Mars, all of which were made available on the internet.

"Science is an emotional affair, it's a team sport, and that's what we're celebrating today", he said. Like its sister craft, Spirit outperformed its intended 90-day mission, returning science for almost six years before becoming permanently stuck by a rock.

Eleven years and two months after its landing on Mars, the total driving distance of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity surpassed the length of a marathon race: 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers).

Opportunity not only leaves behind a legacy of discovery, but also became the longest-running rover.

Update, Feb. 13, 10:10 a.m. PT: Adds NASA's last attempt to contact Opportunity on Tuesday.

NASA's record-breaking Opportunity rover may be gone, but its legacy is assured.

NASA researchers held out, attempting to ping the rover hundreds of times and listening over the radio waves hoping to hear its signal once again.

Artist's illustration of NASA's Opportunity rover, which landed on Mars in January 2004 with the aid of a parachute and airbags.

The Curiosity rover, which reached the Red Planet in August 2012, has more than 12 miles on its odometer.

The rover's observations helped scientists build the case that Mars once hosted significant amounts of liquid water.

It's likely the press conference will announce the end of the mission, holding something akin to a funeral for the solar-powered rover.

Both rovers found plenty of evidence that Mars was relatively warm and wet long ago, with environments that could well have supported life as we know it. Spirit, for example, rolled through an ancient hydrothermal system, revealing that at least some parts of Mars also featured energy sources that ancient organisms could have exploited.

NASA's InSight lander touched down last November, while the Curiosity rover has been exploring the Gale Crater for more than six years.

On Tuesday, InSight deployed its "mole," or heat flow probe, on the Martian surface, and in the coming weeks, it will be the first probe to go more than 16 feet below the surface.

From the beginning, Opportunity exceeded expectations and set records. "I feel great about this", he said, stressing that both Spirit and Opportunity died honorable deaths after doing far more than was expected of them. "But we want to remember the 14-and-a-half years of phenomenal exploration".

The nostalgia extended across the generations of scientists who have handled the plucky little adventurer.

NASA has vowed to send people to Mars by 2030, but experts say it could take at least 25 years from now before humans could survive on the planet.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine noted that while Opportunity stopped communicating around the same time be began his service with the administration, he was still in awe at the achievements the rover and its team were able to achieve throughout their mission.

Mars rover: Rover bites the dust on Mars, ending 15-year mission