Mars Rover's 'Little Robot Heart' Stops Beating as She Bids Farewell to Earthlings

Scientists and space enthusiasts are bidding farewell to the Opportunity Mars rover after NASA announced on Wednesday that they are ending the space explorer's mission.

Science reporter Jacob Margolis posted a lengthy Twitter thread last night and this morning, announcing the "sad news" that Opportunity "is probably done."

"She was bouncing along, doing well, until a massive dust storm engulfed all of Mars in June 2018, knocking out communications with the team on earth," he explained. The team has not heard from Opportunity since and it is unclear exactly what happened, he said. "The last message they received was basically, 'My battery is low and it’s getting dark.' They hoped that the windy season would clear dust off the solar panels (if that was the problem). "

Since then they've been pinging her "again and again, every way they knew," to no avail. "Winter is coming," said Margolis. "The windy season, which runs from November – January has come to an end, " which is bad news for the rover because it will be dark and temps could dip to -100 C. The only way she has to keep warm is to move around, so "If components haven't broken already, the extreme cold will likely serve the final blow.... If the solar panels do start to sip energy from the sun and feed it to the battery, Oppy’s emergency heaters will kick in and it’ll spend that energy warming its little robot heart, which contains its most important components."

“We have made every reasonable engineering effort to try to recover Opportunity and have determined that the likelihood of receiving a signal is far too low to continue recovery efforts," said John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project at JPL on Wednesday afternoon.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine officially declared Opportunity dead in a 2 p.m. EST tweet:

"It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars," Bridenstine said in a statement. "And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration."

"Opportunity landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on Jan. 24, 2004, seven months after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida," NASA noted. "Its twin rover, Spirit, landed 20 days earlier in the 103-mile-wide (166-kilometer-wide) Gusev Crater on the other side of Mars. Spirit logged almost 5 miles (8 kilometers) before its mission wrapped up in May 2011."

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory commended Opportunity's 15 years of service:

Dr. Tanya Harrison, director of Arizona State University's Space Technology and Science Initiative, described the mood as the Opportunity team made their final attempts to contact the rover:

"Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity," NASA said in a statement. "In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars — Perseverance Valley."

Margolis shared what was likely Opportunity's last photograph:

Follow me on Twitter @pbolyard