On Wednesday, a small National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) rover was officially pronounced dead.
Aptly named “Opportunity” and affectionately called “Oppy”, the rover managed to live a 15 year long life exploring 28 miles (45 km) of the red planet.
Oppy’s life story: 2004-2019
Launched with its twin, the Spirit rover, Opportunity began a 90-day exploratory mission on Mars in 2004 to ascertain whether or not the planet has water. Spirit’s mission ended when it got stuck in soft soil in 2009.
Surprising many, this six-wheeled rover outlived Spirit and helped NASA with key research.
However, last June, its mission was interrupted by a dust storm that proved too strong for the golf-cart sized machine. This storm was one of Mars’ fiercest in decades and darkened the sky for months.
For months, controllers tried making contact with Opportunity, but received no signal. CNBC reports that sunlight was likely cut off from the rover’s solar panels. Scientists had been trying a number of different methods to revive Opportunity, like recovery commands and other technical fixes.
“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 project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
On Tuesday, after sending one last recovery command in the form of a ‘wake-up song’, “I’ll Be Seeing You” by Billie Holiday, NASA pronounced Opportunity dead when it received no response. The costs to keep Opportunity alive were about $500,000 a month.
“For more than a decade, Opportunity has been an icon in the field of planetary exploration, teaching us about Mars’ ancient past as a wet, potentially habitable planet and revealing uncharted Martian landscapes,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
Everything Oppy told the world
As luck would have it, Opportunity landed right in the middle of an old water crater called Eagle Crater, says CNN. Then it defied all odds and moved on to the Endurance Crater and Victoria Crater. But, the rover had met its match when it encountered the dust storm.
Along with Spirit, it provided NASA with evidence that” ancient Mars had water flowing on its surface and might have been capable of sustaining microbial life.”
Oppy also found a hematite, which was a sure shot sign that Mars did have liquid water at a point of time. It also managed to take 217,594 images of the planet.
The research from rovers on Mars can help scientists decide where to send astronauts in the next decade.
Now, only two other NASA probes remain—Curiosity, which launched in 2012 and is nuclear-powered, and InSight, a burrowing apparatus that is heat-sensing and can hammer through Mars’ surface. Both, Curiosity and InSight, shared emotional farewells to Oppy.
India’s own Oppys
The U.S.’ NASA isn’t the only organisation making strides in space research. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has also helped India prove to the world that it is a major player in scientific research.
In 2013, India made headlines because ISRO’s first interplanetary mission Mangalyaan succeeded on its first attempt—unlike every other country. Even more interestingly, ISRO’s budget for the mission was only $74 million, which was cheaper than the making of $108 million sci-fi movie The Martian.
In November 2018, ISRO pulled off a hugely successful event, launching 31 satellites into space from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota.
“Later, 30 foreign satellites were injected into their intended orbit after restarting the vehicles’ fourth stage engines twice. The last satellite was injected into its designated orbit 1 hour and 49 minutes after the lift-off,” said ISRO.
The launch was coordinated across eight different countries—Australia, Canada, Columbia, Finland, Malaysia, Netherlands, Spain, and U.S. “Today once again we have proved our excellence,” said ISRO Chairman Dr. K Sivan last year.
These satellites will be studying the earth’s surface using infrared waves to collect data for agriculture, forestry, and geological research along coasts and inland waterways.
Honouring Oppy, Zurbuchen said, “Science is an emotional affair. It’s a team sport, and that’s what we’re celebrating today”.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius