The solar-powered rover hasn't called home since being swamped by a massive dust storm months ago.
NASA made its final attempts to contact its estranged Martian rover, Opportunity, late Tuesday. There was no response, and NASA is convening its leadership to deliver what appears to be a eulogy for its well-traveled robot Wednesday at 11 a.m. PT.
Tanya Harrison, an alum of Opportunity's operations team, was in the room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Tuesday night and shared on Twitter: "Spent the evening at JPL as the last ever commands were sent to the Opportunity rover on #Mars. There was silence. There were tears." Space fans shed tears too as NASA's official announcement approached.
The bot had roamed the Red Planet since 2004, but NASA lost contact with Opportunity during a planet-wide dust storm last June and hope slowly faded that the bot would wake up. Because the rover is solar-powered, it was unable to charge its batteries and operate, presumably due to its solar panels being covered by a significant amount of dust, sand and dirt.
Opportunity had an initial goal of covering 700 yards (640 meters) and operating for just 90 days on the surface of Mars. It exceeded expectations more than 50-fold by staying operational for over 14 years.
The notion that the briefing is expected to be a sad one rather than a "hey, maybe this little robot has a little longer to rove" one is bolstered by the fact that NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine will be on hand with the Mars Exploration Rover mission leadership and an engineer from the Mars 2020 rover team. I can already hear the parting words about "passing the robotic torch" to the next-generation rover set to launch next year.
Also, this highlight reel from Opportunity's career quietly appeared online Tuesday with a description that includes an awful lot of talk about the rover in the past tense.
The official word on Opportunity's fate will be announced at 11 a.m. PT Wednesday when NASA broadcasts the briefing live via NASA TV and YouTube (which you can access by clicking the embed below).
Stay tuned for more on the life, times and (likely) end of Opportunity later today.
First published, Feb. 12, 3:05 p.m. PT.
Update, Feb. 13, 10:10 a.m. PT: Adds NASA's last attempt to contact Opportunity on Tuesday.
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