Dying space missions remembered in inspiring final images

Spacecraft and Mars rovers don't live forever. Some run out of power, others succumb to the elements These are the last views they saw of the cosmos.


Amanda Kooser

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1 of 14 SpaceIL

Beresheet's final moon look

Don't cry for Opportunity, Spirit, Messenger, Cassini or Rosetta. Their final images may feel heartbreaking, but they're testaments to ingenuity, daring and perseverance. These spacecraft and rovers led fascinating lives and enriched our understanding of the universe. 

Beresheet, the first privately funded spacecraft to reach moon orbit, didn't make it safely down to the lunar surface during its landing operation in early 2019. Before it crashed, it took this last look at the craters below from a distance of just over 9 miles (15 kilometers). SpaceIL, the Israeli nonprofit behind Beresheet, said it'll try again with the Beresheet 2 mission.

2 of 14 NASA

Kepler Space Telescope bids adieu

This composite image reveals the final view from NASA's Kepler Space Telescope. Kepler ran out of fuel in 2018 and went into a permanent sleep mode. It had a good run, launching in 2009 and providing nearly a decade of space discoveries. The missing tiles are due to parts of the camera that failed.

3 of 14 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU

Opportunity's last look at Mars

This might look like static, but it's actually the last Mars image sent back by NASA's dearly departed Opportunity rover. The plucky and likable rover reached the end of its mission after a massive dust storm blotted out its solar panels in 2018. NASA declared it officially dead in early 2019. 

4 of 14 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU

Opportunity's final panorama

While Opportunity's final image wasn't much to look at, the rover also gifted us with this stunning panorama view of its home away from home in Perseverance Valley on Mars. The panorama brings together 354 images captured by the rover's camera between May and June 2018. 

5 of 14 Mars Exploration Rover Mission/NASA/JPL/Cornell/Kenneth Kremer/Marco Di Lorenzo

Spirit's view of Mars

Opportunity's sibling rover Spirit didn't last as long as its friend. Spirit got stuck in the dirt on Mars and ran out of power. NASA gave up on attempts to contact Spirit in early 2011. This farewell panorama shows a view of the Gusev Crater from February 2010.

6 of 14 Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Starman pilots a Tesla

Elon Musk sent his personal Tesla roadster into space aboard the first SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in early 2018. We got to enjoy a live view of the car and its mannequin pilot Starman heading into space. The feed cut off after four hours of footage, leaving us with this last look over Starman's shoulder into the pitch black beyond.

7 of 14 NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Messenger's Mercury farewell

NASA's Messenger spacecraft sent back its last glance at Mercury on April 30, 2015. Messenger outlived its original one-year mission and spent over four years studying the planet. The spacecraft went out with a bang by crashing into Mercury's surface. Messenger was the first spacecraft to orbit Mercury.

8 of 14 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini's last glance at Saturn

NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn was a triumph, but it came to an expected end in late 2017 when the spacecraft destroyed itself in the planet's atmosphere. On the way to its planned demise, it sent back this view of Saturn from a distance of 394,000 miles (634,000 kilometers) away.

The two images show a monochrome and a natural-color version of the last picture.

9 of 14 NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Cassini's last Saturn mosaic

Cassini's actual last view of Saturn might not be much of a looker, but the NASA spacecraft's final full mosaic of the ringed planet has plenty of wow factor. The natural-color mosaic is made up of 42 Cassini images. The shot also includes six of Saturn's moons, though they're hard to spot. 


Rosetta's looks at comet 67P

This fuzzy close-up of a rocky landscape was an unexpected bonus from the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft, which landed on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Sept. 30, 2016. Scientists analyzed the spacecraft's last data sent back before impact and reconstructed this image of the comet's rocky surface

11 of 14 NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

Dawn eyes Ceres

This might resemble Earth's moon, but it's actually a view of dwarf planet Ceres and a landmark feature called Ahuna Mons. This was one of the final images sent back by NASA's Dawn spacecraft before completing its mission in late 2018. Dawn ran out of fuel, but left behind a legacy of exploration that gave us close looks at Ceres and the asteroid Vesta.

12 of 14 NASA/Kenny Allen

Space shuttle Atlantis

Space shuttle Atlantis touched down after its final mission in July 2011. This image comes from a sequence of landing shots and shows the shuttle's drag chute that was used to slow it down. This touchdown also marked the end of NASA's iconic space shuttle program. 

13 of 14 NASA/JPL

Voyager 1: Pale Blue Dot

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft isn't dead. It's still out exploring the cosmos far from home. In 1990, NASA instructed Voyager 1 to capture a solar system family portrait for its final imaging assignment. It's hard to see, but Earth appears in this image as a small speck. The mosaic is made up of 60 frames taken at a distance of over 4 billion miles from Earth.

Voyager 1 launched in 1977. It's no longer sending back pictures, but it and its sibling, Voyager 2, are visiting interstellar space.


NEAR, yet so far

NASA's NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous) Shoemaker spacecraft launched in 1996 on a mission to study asteroid 433 Eros up close. In early 2001, NEAR descended to the surface of Eros, sending back some final images along the way. This last look is a rocky view of the landing site, while the streaks are the result of signal loss during transmission.

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