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Opportunity did not respond to NASA's final call, and now we send it to us

The rover Opportunity leaves its landing site at Eagle Crater on Mars in 2004.
Enlarge / The rover Opportunity leaves its landing site at Eagle Crater on Mars in 2004.


On Tuesday night, scientists from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent their latest data link to the Opportunity Rover on Mars. Through this connection, through the Deep Space Network, the American jazz singer Billie Holiday sang "I'll Be Seeing You", a song that closes with the lines:

I'll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new.
I will be looking at the moon
But I will be watching you

The scientists waited to hear some response from their silent rover, which had been enveloped in a global dust storm last June, probably covering its solar panels in a fatal layer of dust. Since then, the team of scientists and engineers has sent more than 835 commands, waiting for the rover to wake up from its long sleep, that perhaps the winds on Mars could have blown some of the dust that covered the panels.

So on Tuesday night, they listened. They remembered But in the end, there was no response. Opportunity finally he would be declared dead in Sun 5352, as in five thousand, three hundred and fifty-two days on Mars. NASA is expected to make it official at 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday, when NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine and the head of the scientific division of the agency, Thomas Zurbuchen, call a press conference.

Opportunity It landed on Mars more than 15 years ago on Earth, on January 25, 2004. It's been so long since then. Facebook would not be created until a month later. YouTube would not get its first video uploaded for more than a year. George W. Bush was still in his first presidency. NASA's Cassini spacecraft had not yet reached the Saturn system.

And yet from that moment, Opportunity and his sister rover, Spirit, began to cover itself along the surface of Mars. Originally designed for 90-day lives, the rovers persisted. Spirit lasted until 2010, when its batteries could not prevent the critical components of the spacecraft from freezing.

It remained and continued

But Opportunity Stay in the middle of the hard ground. He traveled a staggering 45.16 kilometers through the red planet, a distance unmatched by any rover on the Moon or Mars. In 2016, as it climbed a hill, OpportunityThe inclination reached 32 degrees, the steepest for any rover on Mars.

The main task of the rover on Mars was to better understand the geology of the planet and understand the history of the water there. He succeeded In a discovery, for example, he found evidence of ancient hydrothermal vents that would have existed beneath a warm, shallow lake.

When the dust storm originally wrapped Opportunity Last year, mission scientists were hoping they could still recover the vehicle. Sure, he had to rule with only two instead of four wheels, and the rover showed his age. But even then, their batteries had retained 85 percent of their original capacity. But now, NASA scientists know that it will never emerge from the Valley of Perseverance, a feature carved into the edge of Endeavor Crater by water flowing in a distant time.

Spirit Y Opportunity will not be forgotten soon. Its success led NASA to the development of larger rovers, including Curiosity and next Mars 2020 rovers These two rovers carry much more scientific equipment and will explore more deeply the watery past of Mars and if it could ever have sustained life.

Perhaps, above all, Spirit Y Opportunity It will be celebrated for its stubborn survival in difficult conditions. One day, not in the movies, but in real life, human beings, with luck, will visit the sites of these two explorers to marvel at their raw technology, their dusty tombs and their historical achievements. This would be the best tribute of humanity to these first two Martian pioneers: that they were not the end of human exploration of Mars, but the beginning.

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