- I recommend watching the full NASA news briefing, “A Lifetime of Opportunity: NASA Mars Rover Completes Its Mission”, from which much of this is derived.
- MUSIC: “Bittersweet” by Kevin MacLeod
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
[AUDIO TRANSLATION OF OPPORTUNITY ACCELEROMETER DATA]
[BILLIE HOLIDAY’S “I’LL BE SEEING YOU” PLAYS FAINTLY IN THE BACKGROUND]
BILLIE HOLIDAY: ♪ I’ll be seeing you, in all the… ♪
SYNTHESIZED VOICE: My battery is low. And it’s getting dark.
[REFLECTIVE MUSIC BEGINS TO PLAY]
THOMAS ZURBUCHEN: I was there, yesterday. And I was there with the team as these commands went out into the deep sky. And I learned, this morning, that we had not heard back, and our beloved Opportunity remained silent.
JOHN CALLAS: So what happened? Well, back in June, we were afflicted by a historic global dust storm on Mars that just blackened the skies over the rover and starved the rover for energy, and the rover went silent.
ABIGAIL FRAEMAN: This was a historic dust storm, and we needed a historic dust storm to finish this historic mission.
All the way on the left, where there’s a really bright sun? That’s a typical summer day on Mars. In the middle of the image, that’s about as dark as the sun got in the previous dust storm both Spirit and Opportunity experienced in 2007.
This past dust storm, we could tell that the sky got as dark as what you see all the way on the right-hand side. The sky was so dark we couldn’t see the sun, and the solar panels couldn’t recharge the battery.
CALLAS: And we tried valiantly over these last eight months to try to recover the rover, to get some signal from it. We listened every single day —with the deep space network, with our sensitive receivers— and we sent over a thousand recovery commands, trying to exercise every possibility of getting a signal from the rover. But with time, the skies are darkening and it’s getting colder on Mars…that brought us to last night, and we sent our final commands. And we heard nothing. And so, comes time to say goodbye.
ZURBUCHEN: It is therefore that I am standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude that I declare the Opportunity mission as complete. And with it, the Mars Exploration Rover mission as complete.
CALLAS: This is a hard day. And this is hard for me, because I was there at the beginning.
MATTHEW GOLOMBEK: I’ve been on this project eighteen years. And from the development cycle, looking at the landing sites, all the way through operations, that’s been half of my career.
JENNIFER TROSPER: What an opportunity for a farmgirl from Ohio to be surrounded by such amazing people. A privilege, to be part of a team that could rise to this challenge and solve these problems.
CALLAS: But we want to remember the fourteen-and-a-half years of phenomenal exploration. You know, this was a ninety-day mission. And we were so excited by just having three months to explore the planet with just a kilometer of capability. But fourteen and a half years later, and forty-five kilometers of odometry, we’ve done phenomenal things. We’ve greatly expanded our understanding of the red planet.
STEVE SQUYRES: Spirit and Opportunity were robotic field geologists.
LORI GLAZE: These two rovers really did change the way we think about doing planetary science on the surface of other planets.
TROSPER: We had Viking landers, we had the Pathfinder lander, we even had the Sojourner rover. But we weren’t able to get to the things that we saw in the distance. We saw mountains, we saw rocks, we saw stuff that our geologists wanted to get their hands on, and we couldn’t get there. And so, one of the great paradigm shifts of the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity was we took everything that we needed, we put it on wheels, and we made a geologist that could go and investigate the things that the science team was interested in.
SQUYRES: A geologist is like a detective at the scene of a crime. Something happened at this place on Mars, billions of years ago. What was it? What was it like there, back then? And you’re looking for clues, and the clues are in the rocks. And so we equipped these vehicles with the tools that they needed to read those clues.
FRAEMAN: Back in 2004, we didn’t even know if there had been liquid water on the surface. These rovers answered that question. They revealed some of the details about the timing and the chemistry of that water.
GOLOMBEK: It was tremendously exciting!
CALLUS: All those things were accomplished by a phenomenal engineering and science team who were innovative and problem-solving in figuring out ways, how to keep this rover going and how to keep it productive, and to continue that exploration in scientific discovery.
GOLOMBEK: This endeavor was after one of those almost theological questions: will life form anywhere that liquid water is stable, or are we really, really lucky?
CALLUS: Even though it’s a machine, and we’re saying goodbye, it’s still very hard and very poignant. During the early days of development, when the rovers were in the clean room, like it was a neonatal care facility. And they had all the life support equipment, and you would watch their vital signs, and you would see their heart rates, and you would see the voltages and temperatures and currents. And they would be living. And you would see them wake and sleep. And so, during those times when it was just me, you know, you develop a special bond. And they become your children.
CALLER (ON PHONE): How would you place Spirit and Opportunity in, sort of, the pantheon of exploration vehicles, such as Endurance and Endeavour and the Beagle and the Challenger?
SQUYRES: I’m probably the worst person in the world to ask questions about the legacy of this mission. I’m just too close to it. I do have a longstanding interest in the history of exploration. It’s something that’s very meaningful to me, and I hope that our place in that pantheon, as you said it, turns out to be an important one.
FRAEMAN: When Opportunity landed, back in 2004, I was actually in high school. I was a high school junior, but I had the amazing opportunity to come to JPL and actually be here when the rovers landed. I was actually in this room on landing night with the science team, seeing the first images come back. And it was those first images from Opportunity that inspired me to become a planetary scientist. They revealed a view of Mars that we had never seen before, and I was in the room with the folks were so excited to see that bedrock in that crater. And I wanted to know why.
You know, I’ve been hearing a lot of people’s stories, both from within the project, from within JPL, and from all over the world via social media. And what strikes me as so cool is that this story is not unique for me. There really are hundreds, if not thousands, of students who are just like me. Who witnessed these rovers and followed along their mission from the images they released to the public over the last fifteen years, and then because of that went to pursue careers in science and education and math.
SYNTHESIZED VOICE: My battery…is…low.
BILLIE HOLIDAY: ♪ I’ll be seeing yoooouuuu… ♪