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.