Mission complete: NASA announces demise of Opportunity rover

Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 and covered 28 miles (45 kilometers) on the planet, securing its place in history after lasting well beyond its expected 90-day mission. (AFP)
Updated 14 February 2019
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Mission complete: NASA announces demise of Opportunity rover

  • Opportunity left hundreds of messages from Earth unanswered over the months
  • Opportunity sent back 217,594 images from Mars, all of which were made available on the Internet

WASHINGTON: 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 analyzed its last soil sample.
The robot has been missing since the US space agency lost contact during a dust storm in June last year and was declared officially dead Wednesday, ending one of the most fruitful missions in the history of space exploration.
Unable to recharge its batteries, Opportunity left hundreds of messages from Earth unanswered over the months, and NASA said it made its last attempt at contact Tuesday evening.
“I declare the Opportunity mission as complete,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate told a news conference at mission headquarters in Pasadena, California.
The community of researchers and engineers involved in the program were in mourning over the passing of the rover, known affectionately as Oppy.
“It is a hard day,” said John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover project.
“Even though it is a machine and we’re saying goodbye, it’s very hard and it’s very poignant.”
“Don’t be sad it’s over, be proud it taught us so much,” former president Barack Obama tweeted later on Thursday.
“Congrats to all the men and women of @NASA on a @MarsRovers mission that beat all expectations, inspired a new generation of Americans, and demands we keep investing in science that pushes the boundaries of human knowledge.”
The nostalgia extended across the generations of scientists who have handled the plucky little adventurer.
“Godspeed, Opportunity,” tweeted Keri Bean, who had the “privilege” of sending the final message to the robot.
“Hail to the Queen of Mars,” added Mike Seibert, Opportunity’s former flight director and rover driver in another tweet, while Frank Hartman, who piloted Oppy, told AFP he felt “greatly honored to have been a small part of it.”
“Engulfed by a giant planet-encircling dust storm: Is there a more fitting end for a mission as perfect and courageous from start to finish as Opportunity?” he said.
The program has had an extraordinary record of success: 28.1 miles (45.2 kilometers) traversed, more than the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 moon rover during the 1970s and more than the rover that US astronauts took to the moon on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
“It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.
Opportunity sent back 217,594 images from Mars, all of which were made available on the Internet.
“For the public, the big change was that Mars became a dynamic place, and it was a place that you could explore every day,” Emily Lakdawalla, an expert on space exploration and senior editor at The Planetary Society.
“The fact that this rover was so mobile, it seemed like an animate creature,” she said. “Plus it has this perspective on the Martian surface that’s very human-like.”
“It really felt like an avatar for humanity traveling across the surface,” she added.
Opportunity landed on an immense plain and spent half its life there, traversing flat expanses and once getting stuck in a sand dune for several weeks. It was there, using geological instruments, that it confirmed that liquid water was once present on Mars.
During the second part of its life on Mars, Opportunity climbed to the edge of the crater Endeavour, taking spectacular panoramic images — and discovering veins of gypsum, additional proof that water once flowed among the Martian rocks.
Opportunity’s twin, Spirit, landed three weeks ahead of it, and was active until it expired in 2010. The two far exceeded the goals of their creators: In theory, their missions were supposed to last 90 days.
Today, only a single rover is still active on Mars, Curiosity, which arrived in 2012. It is powered not by the sun, but by a small nuclear reactor.
In 2021, the recently named Rosalind Franklin robot, part of the European-Russian ExoMars mission, is slated to land on a different part of the planet, raising the population of active rovers to two.


Samsung receives reports of Galaxy Fold screen problems, says to investigate

Updated 18 April 2019
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Samsung receives reports of Galaxy Fold screen problems, says to investigate

  • Some tech reviewers of the Galaxy Fold said the phone malfunctioned after only a day or two of use
  • The splashy $1,980 phone resembles a conventional smartphone but opens like a book to reveal a second display

NEW YORK/SEOUL: South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. said it has received “a few” reports of damage to the main display of samples of its upcoming foldable smartphone and that it will investigate.
Some tech reviewers of the Galaxy Fold, a splashy $1,980 phone that opens into a tablet and that goes on sale in the United States on April 26, said the phone malfunctioned after only a day or two of use.
“We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter,” Samsung said in a statement, noting that a limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review.
The problem seems to be related to the unit’s screen either cracking or flickering, according to Twitter posts by technology journalists from Bloomberg, The Verge and CNBC who received the phone this week for review purposes.
Samsung, which has advertised the phone as “the future,” said removing a protective layer of its main display might cause damage, and that it will clearly inform customers such.
The company said it has closed pre-orders for the Galaxy Fold due to “high demand.” It told Reuters there is no change to its release schedule following the malfunction reports.
The South Korean company’s Galaxy Fold resembles a conventional smartphone but opens like a book to reveal a second display the size of a small tablet at 7.3 inches (18.5 cm).
Although Galaxy Fold and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd’s Mate X foldable phones are not expected to be big sellers, the new designs were hailed as framing the future of smartphones this year in a field that has seen few surprises since Apple Inc. introduced the screen slab iPhone in 2007.
The problems with the new phone drew comparisons to Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 phone in 2016. Battery and design flaws in the Note 7 led to some units catching fire or exploding, forcing Samsung to recall and cancel sales of the phone. The recall wiped out nearly all of the profit in Samsung’s mobile division in the third quarter of 2016.
Samsung has said it plans to churn out at least 1 million foldable Galaxy Fold handsets globally, compared with its total estimated 300 million mobile phones it produces annually.
Reviewers of the new Galaxy Fold said they did not know what the problem was and Samsung did not provide answers.
Bloomberg reporter Mark Gurman tweeted: “The screen on my Galaxy Fold review unit is completely broken and unusable just two days in. Hard to know if this is widespread or not.”
According to Gurman’s tweets, he removed a plastic layer on the screen that was not meant to be removed and the phone malfunctioned afterwards.
Dieter Bohn, executive editor of The Verge, said that a “small bulge” appeared on the crease of the phone screen, which appeared to be something pressing from underneath the screen. Bohn said Samsung replaced his test phone but did not offer a reason for the problem.
“It is very troubling,” Bohn told Reuters, adding that he did not remove the plastic screen cover.
Steve Kovach, tech editor at CNBC.com tweeted a video of half of his phone’s screen flickering after using it for just a day.