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
0

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.


What happened to the Apollo goodwill moon rocks?

Updated 16 June 2019
0

What happened to the Apollo goodwill moon rocks?

  • Some of the gifts have either gone missing, were stolen or destroyed over the decades

HOUSTON, Texas: US President Richard Nixon gave moon rocks collected by Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 astronauts to 135 countries around the world and the 50 US states as a token of American goodwill.
While some hold pride of place in museums and scientific institutions, many others are unaccounted for — they have either gone missing, were stolen or even destroyed over the decades.
The list below recounts the stories of some of the missing moon rocks and others that were lost and later found.
It is compiled from research done by Joseph Gutheinz Jr, a retired NASA special agent known as the “Moon Rock Hunter,” his students, and collectSPACE, a website which specializes in space history.

• Both the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 moon rocks presented to perpetually war-wracked Afghanistan have vanished.

• One of the moon rocks destined for Cyprus was never delivered due to the July 1974 Turkish invasion of the island and the assassination of the US ambassador the following month.
It was given to NASA years later by the son of a US diplomat but has not been handed over to Cyprus.

Joseph Gutheinz, an attorney known as the "Moon Rock Hunter," displays meteorite fragments in his office on May 22, 2019 in Friendswood, Texas. (AFP / Loren Elliot)



• Honduras’s Apollo 17 moon rock was recovered by Gutheinz and Bob Cregger, a US Postal Service agent, in a 1998 undercover sting operation baptized “Operation Lunar Eclipse.”
It had been sold to a Florida businessman, Alan Rosen, for $50,000 by a Honduran army colonel. Rosen tried to sell the rock to Gutheinz for $5 million. It was seized and eventually returned to Honduras.

• Ireland’s Apollo 11 moon rock was on display in Dublin’s Dunsink Observatory, which was destroyed in a 1977 fire. Debris from the observatory — including the moon rock — ended up in the Finglas landfill.

• The Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 moon rocks given to then Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi have vanished.

• Malta’s Apollo 17 moon rock was stolen from a museum in May 2004. It has not been found.

• Nicaragua’s Apollo 17 moon rock was allegedly sold to someone in the Middle East for $5-10 million. Its Apollo 11 moon rock ended up with a Las Vegas casino owner, who displayed it for a time in his Moon Rock Cafe. Bob Stupak’s estate turned it over to NASA when he died. It has since been returned to Nicaragua.

• Romania’s Apollo 11 moon rock is on display in a museum in Bucharest. Romania’s Apollo 17 moon rock is believed to have been sold by the estate of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was executed along with his wife, Elena, on Christmas Day 1989.


Spain’s Apollo 17 moon rock is on display in Madrid’s Naval Museum after being donated by the family of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, who was assassinated by the Basque separatist group ETA in 1973.
Spain’s Apollo 11 moon rock is missing and is believed to be in the hands of the family of former dictator Francisco Franco.
cl/sst