NASA bids farewell to historic Mars rover Opportunity | News | DW | 13.02.2019
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NASA bids farewell to historic Mars rover Opportunity

After 15 years, the history-making rover "is at an end" despite attempts to restore it after a Martian dust storm. The US space agency hailed the rover as "an icon" that would inspire future missions to the Red Planet.

The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Wednesday announced that it was bidding a final farewell to "one of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration."

"NASA's Opportunity rover mission is at an end after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA's return to the Red Planet," NASA said in a statement. NASA engineers had tried for months to revive the rover following a devastating dust storm.

Opportunity landed on Mars in the Meridiani Planum region on January 24, 2004. Although only expected to last 90 Martian days, Opportunity beat NASA scientists' most ambitious expectations. It sent its last signal from Perseverance Valley.

During its time on the Red Planet, Opportunity sent Earth more than 217,000 images, including 15 360-degree color panoramas of the surface.

Read more: Our first InSight into the interior of Mars

'An icon'

One of the rover's most famous acts was discovering evidence of water on Mars, which prompted scientists to consider the potential for life on the Solar System's fourth planet from the sun.

"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 of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

US Vice President Mike Pence expressed his gratitude to Opportunity and its team "for showing us the beauty and wonder of Mars."

"Congratulations to the entire Mars Rovers team," Pence said in a tweet. "Through ingenuity and hard work, you turned a 90-day mission into 15 years."

Read more: Life on Mars? Planet has an underground lake of liquid water, say Italian researchers

An Earthly legacy

Despite the loss of Opportunity, NASA's Mars rover operations are to continue in the Curiosity and the Mars 2020 missions.

John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab, said Opportunity's legacy will continue to inspire missions to the Red Planet.

"What I suppose I'll cherish most is the impact Opportunity had on us here on Earth," said Callas. "It's the technical legacy of the Mars Exploration Rovers, which is carried aboard Curiosity and the upcoming Mars 2020 mission. Farewell, Opportunity, and well done."

Read more: What you can see in space in 2019

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ls/amp (AFP, AP, dpa)