JPL Says RIP To The Mars Rover

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During 14 years of intrepid exploration across Mars it advanced human knowledge by confirming that water once flowed on the red planet - but Nasa's Opportunity rover has analysed its last soil sample. The storm was so intense that it darkened the sky for months, preventing sunlight from reaching the rover's solar panels.

Trundling along until communication ceased last June, Opportunity roamed a record 28 miles (45 kilometers) around Mars and worked longer than any other lander - anywhere, ever.

During its 15 years on Mars, the rover was tasked with solving a mystery about the planet - namely, whether it had liquid water, which could mean life.

Launched on May 5, InSight marks NASA's first landing on Mars since the Curiosity rover in 2012 and the first dedicated to studying the deep interior of the red planet.

One of Opportunity's biggest achievements was identifying water once flowed on the red planet. Spirit died in 2010 when it got stuck in a sand trap and failed to charge its batteries. "It wouldn't know when to deep-sleep", Callas said, and that may have led the rover to keep the heater on and exhaust the last of its energy. Once the storm had passed, engineers were hopeful that the sun would wake Opportunity up again.

"Science is an emotional affair, it's a team sport, and that's what we're celebrating today", he said.

Astrophysicist Gemma Lavender tweeted: "Think we may be saying goodbye to the Opportunity rover". JPL's director, Michael Watkins, said Opportunity and Spirit created a "new paradigm for solar system exploration".

It may seem hard to believe given NASA's string of successful Mars missions, but the first successful rover didn't deploy until 1997.

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And NASA's InSight spacecraft, the first robotic lander created to study the deep interior of a distant world, touched down safely on the surface of Mars in November with instruments to detect planetary seismic rumblings never measured anywhere but Earth. After that, it headed to Endurance crater where it drove down the side and studied the strata of Mars.

"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.

Opportunity was able to visit Victoria and spend two years driving around it and inside it before moving on to Endeavour Crater and ending in Perseverance Valley.

The rover has not been heard from since June past year when the storm blanketed the Red Planet, blocking sunlight and causing solar-powered Oppy to go into hibernation.

Bridenstine liked that idea: "Bring 'em all back", he joked.

"It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our fearless astronauts walk on the surface of Mars", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. "And they see us on TV jumping up and down like we just won the Super Bowl. That's their home. That's where I would like them to stay", Squyres said.

Mobility is crucial in this line of work, he added: "Imagine you're a field geologist, and someone takes you out in a helicopter and sets you down in a fascinating new place - and then they nail your boots to the ground".