A fond farewell to ‘the little rover that could’

Why We Wrote This

NASA's Opportunity rover has provided scientists with 15 years worth of data. But more than that, “Oppy became a beloved and uniting symbol of human tenacity, curiosity, endeavour.”

NASA's Opportunity rover, shown on the surface of Mars here in an illustration, logged more than 28 miles before falling silent during a global dust storm in June 2018.

The mission was supposed to last just 90 days. But NASA’s Opportunity rover defied expectations, continuing to explore Martian craters, climb mountains, and make ground-breaking discoveries for 15 years.

When NASA engineers finally said goodbye this week, they issued a farewell more befitting of a colleague than a tool.

“Even though it’s a machine and we’re saying goodbye,” said project manager John Callas, “it’s still very hard and very poignant.”

Opportunity’s long life changed how scientists and engineers approach rover missions, setting the stage for the Curiosity, InSight, and upcoming Mars 2020 rovers. Planetary scientists can now roam much farther afield through the eyes of these mechanical envoys.

Known fondly as “Oppy” and “the little rover that could,” the golf-cart sized rover became a source of delight and inspiration for many Earthlings, even beyond the planetary science community.

“The little rover that could has done something more powerful than we could have imagined in 2004,” astrophysicist  Catherine Qualtrough tweeted. “Oppy became a beloved and uniting symbol of human tenacity, curiosity, endeavour. You’ll be missed little rover friend.”

This column first appeared in the Feb 14, 2019 issue of the Monitor's Science & Nature Newsletter. Click here to subscribe to any of the Monitor's free newsletters.

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