NASA Celebrates Bittersweet Anniversary Of Mars Rover

PASADENA, CA — NASA’s rover Opportunity begins its 15th year on the surface of Mars on Thursday, but scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena say they currently can’t raise the craft.

The rover landed in a region of the Red Planet called Meridiani Planum on Jan. 24, 2004, sending its first signal back to Earth from the surface in the first minutes of Jan. 25, recalled a JPL statement.

The golf-cart-sized rover was designed to travel 1,100 yards and operate on the Red Planet for 90 Martian days. It has traveled over 28 miles and logged its 5,000th Martian day back in February of 2018, according to the statement.

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“Fifteen years on the surface of Mars is testament not only to a magnificent machine of exploration but the dedicated and talented team behind it that has allowed us to expand our discovery space of the Red Planet,” said John Callas, project manager for Opportunity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“However, this anniversary cannot help but be a little bittersweet as at present we don’t know the rover’s status. We are doing everything in our power to communicate with Opportunity, but as time goes on, the probability of a successful contact with the rover continues to diminish.”

Opportunity’s last communication with Earth was received June 10, 2018, as a planet-wide dust storm blanketed the solar-powered rover’s location on the western rim of Perseverance Valley, eventually blocking out so much sunlight that the rover could no longer charge its batteries, the statement said.

Although the storm eventually abated and the skies over Perseverance cleared, the rover has not communicated with Earth since then. However, Opportunity’s mission continues, in a phase where mission engineers at JPL are sending commands to the rover and listening for its signals. If engineers hear from the rover, they could attempt a recovery.

Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2003. Spirit landed on Mars in 2004, and its mission ended in 2011.

City News Service; Photo: This Jan. 4, 2018 photo made available by NASA shows a view from the front Hazard Avoidance Camera of the Opportunity rover on the inboard slope of the western rim of Endeavour Crater on the planet Mars. A global dust storm prevented sunlight from reaching Opportunity’s solar panels, and the rover fell silent in June 2018. Although the skies have cleared considerably, Opportunity has yet to send word to flight controllers as of Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018. (NASA/JPL-Caltech via AP)

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