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The Journal Gazette

  • Associated Press After eight months of silence, NASA says it will issue a final series of recovery commands to its Mars rover Opportunity today. If there is no response, the spacecraft will be declared dead after 15 years on the planet.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019 1:00 am

NASA giving Mars rover final chance to respond

MARCIA DUNN | Associated Press

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – NASA is trying one last time to contact its record-setting Mars rover Opportunity, before calling it quits.

The rover has been silent eight months, victim of one of the most intense dust storms in decades. Thick dust darkened the sky last summer and, for months, blocked sunlight from the spacecraft's solar panels.

NASA said Tuesday it will issue a final series of recovery commands, on top of more than 1,000 already sent. If there's no response by today – which NASA suspects will be the case – Opportunity will be declared dead, 15 years after arriving at the red planet.

Team members are already looking back at Opportunity's achievements, including confirmation water once flowed on Mars. Opportunity was, by far, the longest-lasting lander on Mars. Besides endurance, the six-wheeled rover set a roaming record of 28 miles.

Its identical twin, Spirit, was pronounced dead in 2011, a year after it got stuck in sand and communication ceased.

Both outlived and outperformed expectations, on opposite sides of Mars. The golf cart-size rovers were designed to operate as geologists for just three months, after bouncing onto our planetary neighbor inside cushioning air bags in January 2004. They rocketed from Cape Canaveral a month apart in 2003.

It's no easier saying goodbye now to Opportunity, than it was to Spirit, project manager John Callas told The Associated Press.

“It's just like a loved one who's gone missing, and you keep holding out hope that they will show up and that they're healthy,” he said. “But each passing day that diminishes, and at some point you have to say 'enough' and move on with your life.”