back to article A once-in-a-lifetime Opportunity: NASA bids emotional farewell to its cocky, hardworking RC science car on Mars

NASA’s beloved Mars rover, Opportunity, has been officially laid to rest more than seven months after it was engulfed by a gigantic dust storm and fell silent. That planet-wide tempest of sand and debris in June was particularly powerful, leaving Opportunity’s solar panels saturated with material. Starved of sunlight, the poor …

  1. Alphabet Soup 1
    Thumb Up

    Thanks Opportunity!

    ... and as always, XKCD is right on the money:

    https://xkcd.com/2111/

    1. JLV Silver badge

      Re: Thanks Opportunity!

      Speaking of xkcd, I’m probably the last person in the know, but:

      https://xkcd.com/1928/

      seems relevant, unexpected-positives-wise. might sound clumsy, so rephrasing: awesome.

      1. Muscleguy Silver badge

        Re: Thanks Opportunity!

        There's an app for XKCD you know, works flawlessly (for me) and means I never miss one. I have to press and hold for the mouseover text but that's no biggie. Also gives full access to the archive and includes What If?

        It is generally just fab, as you might expect from Randal, a very top bloke.

    2. Myvekk

      Re: Thanks Opportunity!

      I'm not convinced. What if it has just decided it doesn't need to talk to us any more...

      https://xkcd.com/1504/

      Don't forget to read the mouseover text.

      1. petef

        Re: Thanks Opportunity!

        And let us not forget Spirit.

        https://xkcd.com/695/

    3. Hollerithevo Silver badge

      Re: Thanks Opportunity!

      Yep, that XKCD got me right in the feels.

  2. Marketing Hack Silver badge

    Opportunity---NNNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

    Well, the mission was bound to end someday, and it wildly exceeded expectations. If someone happens to be on Mars someday, can you brush off Opportunity's solar panels and orient it towards the sun?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Opportunity---NNNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

      > brush off Opportunity's solar panels and orient it towards the sun?

      Downloading update 1 of 32768.....

      1. JJKing Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Opportunity---NNNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

        The icon says it all. :-)

      2. Dabooka Silver badge

        Re: Opportunity---NNNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

        'Reboot required'

        Unlock with Fingerprint [F2] or Password [F3]?

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Opportunity---NNNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

        Reboots...

        Keyboard not found, Press F1 to continue

    2. Oliver Mayes

      Re: Opportunity---NNNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

      Humans are sentimental creatures. If we ever make it to Mars I'm confident that all of the robots we sent will have monuments constructed around them.

      1. Saruman the White

        Re: Opportunity---NNNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

        They don't need monuments constructed around them - they ARE monuments in their own right.

        1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: Opportunity---NNNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

          Virgil said of his Aeniad "Monumentum exigere aere perennius" - I have created a monument more durable than bronze.

          Given the environment, the Rovers are likely to long outlast the human race - though as things are at present that isn't saying a lot. Odd to think that if another civilisation ever makes it here, artefacts on Mars and the Moon might be the last remaining evidence of our civilisation.

      2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Opportunity---NNNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

        I remember years back when walking to the car with the kids (they must have been 5 and 6 at the time), and pointing at the bright red dot in the sky, telling them that that was planet Mars, and two little robotic cars built on earth were driving around there (Spirit was still up and running). They were astounded at the idea, and back home I had to show them pictures from Mars, and explain about rockets and robotics. Inspirational stuff from NASA once more!

        I will raise a glass to the success of Opportunity, and all folks at NASA and elsewhere who contributed

  3. JJKing Silver badge
    Alien

    NASA must be so proud and yet sad at the same time. You guyz (written as gender neutral) RULE!

    What can one say except WOW!!!

    It started work the year my daughter started High School. It died the year she finished University. Such a long time but each a magnificent achievement.

    Are NASA sure it was the wind clearing the dust from the solar panels? I seem to remember an HP printer advert suggesting a different possibility

  4. JLV Silver badge

    A good book about the fanatical level of engineering,detail and planning going into remote probes is

    https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B01K3NA0C6

    $$$, but might get lucky at your library. better-cheaper-faster is addressed and so is manned-vs-remote.

    well-done and unpoliticized, Space is a magnificent endeavour and comparatively cheap. hats off to everyone involved.

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      I saved $160 by just reading this review/spoiler instead :)

      As a former IR astronomer and author of several space mission proposals, I already knew some of the information in this book. But I still found it to be a fascinating window into the arcane and Byzantine process by which NASA produces complex scientific spacecraft. SIRTF/Spitzer took 20 years from announcement to launch, and it went through more fundamental changes in design and survived more NASA management fads than any spacecraft in history. Somehow Professor Rieke managed not to lose his sense of humor during this torture.

      The impression one gets from reading this account is the whole system for selecting and funding NASA missions is fundamentally broken and needs to be totally overhauled. The amount of effort and money wasted on mission concepts that were abandoned is astonishing. Spitzer only worked because IR detector technology improved by a factor of 10,000 during its development cycle (mostly due to military-funded research).

      I also was surprised at the number of dumb mistakes made by experienced engineers. The main contractor for the Spitzer instrument package was Ball Aerospace, who have a mixed reputation for competence. Clearly this mission was not one of their high points. Ball's pre-launch testing program seems to have caused more problems than it cured.

      A lot of trouble was caused by defective components supplied by sub-contractors (which under the insane rules of the time could not be tested by the prime contractor or NASA). It seems incredible to me that after 40 years of building space probes, it is not possible to obtain basic parts like wiring harnesses and gas valves that aren't riddled with defects. There is no indication that the vendors of these defective parts were sued for damages, denied award fees, or placed on some NASA blacklist.

      Everybody interested in space mission planning should read this book. You may laugh, you may cry, but you will learn a lot.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        As an even older non-Nasa IR astronomer. The original SIRTF was Shuttle Infrared Telescope facility and was the idea that the telescope would be mounted in the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle and be used there, by a visiting astronomer for the few days of a mission and then returned. Since Space Shuttles would fly as often and as cheaply as a South Western flight this would make sense.

        An original proposal I saw for the Hubble Space Telescope had it manned by 2 astronauts who would operate the telescope, develop photograph plates, etc.

        ps. The only thing less surprising than NASA's "issues" with getting anything built is the identical farce ESA had in their own part in Hubble

      2. fishman

        My impression of the problem with subcontractors is due to Congress - to get congressional approval of programs the prime contractors have to spread the work around to as many states and congressional districts as possible. This means that a lot more subcontractors are used, and many are chosen on the basis of location and not quality of work.

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    "That planet-wide tempest of sand and debris in June "

    Something to think about if you're planning to run on solar cells.

    Supposedly not a problem as the haze only cuts power output by 70-90%.

    But I think you'll still need plenty of batteries, given those storms can run a long time.

    BTW that 20MHz computer was IIRC on a board from BAe systems. It cost about $100K.

    Fair well Opportunity. You had a bloody good run.

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    All good things come to an end

    The mission was a great success, and congratulations are in order for all of its participants.

    Opportunity : Science the way it should be done.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: All good things come to an end

      >The mission was a great success

      What do you mean?

      The panels have merely been covered in sand by a storm, thus it is not beyond the realms of possible for another storm to uncover the panels - so the Mars rover isn't dead it is just resting.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: All good things come to an end

        The panels have merely been covered in sand by a storm, thus it is not beyond the realms of possible for another storm to uncover the panels - so the Mars rover isn't dead it is just resting.

        I think there's also a temperature issue, which may cause damage to the batteries themselves. Personally I indeed hope someone at NASA fits the next one they send with a way to clean up the other devices out there.

      2. F111F
        Coat

        Re: All good things come to an end

        So, Oppy is just pinin' for the fjords then?

        ...mine's the one with the blue parrot, thanks.

  7. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      I'm not sticking my head in there to find out.

    2. MyffyW Silver badge

      "will there someday...."

      @8972 no my dear, only in your dreams.

      1. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921
  8. SonOfDilbert
    Alert

    Cocks

    Perhaps we should draw a cock on all of the planets we explore in lieu of placing a flag?

    1. Stumpy

      Re: Cocks

      HAMMOND!!!!!

    2. MyffyW Silver badge
      Coat

      Bosoms

      ...might explain who and what we are rather better. Just saying...

  9. joeW

    sent to space in 2004... carrying pieces of the World Trade Center

    That strikes me as a very odd thing to do.

    1. Seajay

      Re: sent to space in 2004... carrying pieces of the World Trade Center

      I think they were building it right about the time - more info here

      https://earthsky.org/human-world/pieces-of-demolished-world-trade-center-aboard-mars-rovers

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Stuck in a and trap

      Somebody would have to explain the lights in the sky to him first.

  11. DropBear Silver badge

    Not like it didn't last long enough, but strictly speaking - seeing as how big of an issue sand can be, is there anything preventing solar rovers being constructed with panels that can be tilted beyond the angle of repose, so sand can't settle on them, then just returning them to optimum angle when the weather is nice...? It could even be constructed as a passive mechanism that pre-stores the energy needed to un-tilt the panels back to horizontal during the stowing phase, so it would only need the tiniest amount of energy to trigger and effect a wake-up...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I think there are two sticking points. First, Mars has less gravity than earth (0.6g), meaning ultralight particles like fine sand are less likely to respond to it. Second, the nature of this sand may make it tenacious. It may pick up static charges or physically embed itself into the panel such that it can adhere even if inverted, meaning no amount of flipping will help. At that point, with no liquid wash available, all you can do is pray.

      1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
        Holmes

        Do we know..

        Just how much static the particles get? Couldn't we by now figure out a way of repelling the dust instead (ie. Negatively charged panels to repel positively charged particles or vice versa)? Or is that just wishful thinking?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Do we know..

          Kinda hard to tell since no one's been there in person, and the environment (both terrestrial and atmospheric) is unique to Mars; we're still trying to get more details which means we probably can't duplicate it properly on Earth, and it would be tricky to mimic the 0.6g outside of something like a Vomit Comet.

    2. imanidiot Silver badge

      Mechanically complex and heavy, not guaranteed to work, not worth it for a mission like this.

    3. DuncanLarge Bronze badge

      Moving parts need to be avoided as you dont want your panels to get stuck.

      Might be an idea to use an ultrasonic cleaning system as used in digital SLR's for getting dust off the sensors?

      Buzz the panels with low amplitude waves to get the particles into the air and the wind, when its there will just carry them away.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        You need somewhere for the sand to go otherwise it just falls back down, SLRs have double sided sticky tape next to the sensor. You can't really do that in the open.

        Although now we know more about the amount of dust and the nature of the wind it might be worth considering the aerodynamics to generate dust shedding vortexes on the panels. Although this might mean SPOILERS

        1. MyffyW Silver badge

          What you really need is a human being to come along and dust the plucky little rover.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            "What you really need is a human being to come along and dust the plucky little rover.""

            Install a set of traffic lights on a robotic arm. When you need the panels to be squeegeed, just deploy the traffic lights and some scally will leap out and do the job. Best have a few pound coins handy too.

      2. Simon Harris Silver badge
        Unhappy

        "Might be an idea to use an ultrasonic cleaning system as used in digital SLR's for getting dust off the sensors?"

        ... and my SLR sensors still have dust particles stuck to them that need a proper fluid based clean.

  12. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    Man with hole in pocket feel cocky

  13. Big_Boomer

    RIP Opportunity

    So, we've had Spirit, Opportunity, Curiosity, and the next Rover will also be named by a school kid.

    https://www.space.com/41920-nasa-contest-name-2020-mars-rover.html

    I wonder if we'll end up with Rover McRoverFace or more likely something like FinanceMyF***ingWallYouB***ards! if Fartus gets his say.

    1. SonOfDilbert
      Gimp

      Re: RIP Opportunity

      I think the next rover should be named after any kids' cartoon/animation character. My current favourite being, 'Chorlton.'

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: RIP Opportunity

      Or perhaps I could just repost this:

      .

      If I should die, think only this of me:

      That there's some corner of a foreign field

      That is for ever Roverian. There shall be

      On that bare gravel a richer dust concealed;

      A dust whom NASA bore, shaped, made aware,

      Gave, once, her wheels to rove, radios to talk,

      A body of Earth's, now in Martian air,

      Unwashed by rivers, blast'd by arid red storms.

      .

      And think, this battery, all power shed away,

      No pulse in the eternal cpu, no less,

      Gave sometime back those things by Terra wanted;

      The sights and sounds; detail far and near;

      No laughter, learnt of friends; but the scanning eyes, computation,

      and wheels at peace; under an Martian heaven.

    3. MonkeyBob
      Thumb Down

      Re: RIP Opportunity

      "FinanceMyF***ingWallYouB***ards! if Fartus gets his say."

      Shhh, if he knows NASA are spending money on this he might divert it to his wall.

  14. imanidiot Silver badge
    Pint

    Rest In Peace Opportunity

    Truly the end of an era. Congrats to the NASA team that designed, built and operated it! You've done an amazing job.

  15. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

    That thing looks a little like Johnny5

  16. DontFeedTheTrolls Silver badge
    Joke

    "You could always call out AAA, however I do believe you need to be standing next to your vehicle holding your membership card"

    stolen from The Big Bang Theory

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wouldn't it be ironic

    if in a few years a cylinder-like object crash lands onto the common and after the top slowly unscrews Opportunity appears and heat-rays everything in sight.

    1. genghis_uk

      Re: Wouldn't it be ironic

      No it wouldn't - Alanis is that you again?

      1. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: Wouldn't it be ironic

        "It's rayeeee-ain on your wedding day....." or sand particles in your chardonnay

    2. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: Wouldn't it be ironic

      if in a few years a cylinder-like object crash lands onto the common and after the top slowly unscrews Opportunity appears and heat-rays everything in sight.

      ... aaaand we have winner, grin!

      For me, that's the Comment of the Week - beautiful segue into War of the Worlds.

      Well done (still laughing).

  18. adam 40
    Alien

    Little Green Men (with boots on)

    I wsa idly watching a fast-forward video associated with this story on the BBC, and there appeared to be bootmarks in the soil in one part of it.

    Anyone else notice this? Or was I hallucinating?

    1. tfb Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: Little Green Men (with boots on)

      I'm sure you have a link to this video.

      1. adam 40

        Re: Little Green Men (with boots on)

        Yeah https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/47237463

        Time index 00:09s where it says "Sol 439".

        That is DEFINITELY a boot mark lower right of frame - proof of life - until we ran the poor bugger over.

        ;^)

        1. tfb Silver badge

          Re: Little Green Men (with boots on)

          Pretty sure they are its own tracks: it spends some time going backwards (or: the other way, anyway) around then.

          (I mean, obviously what it isn't is a boot print: I'm only pretty sure that whatever else it is is wheel tracks.)

  19. Jacob's Elevator

    And what of BEAGLE II ...?

    I got an email from Colin Pilinger, founder of the UK's little MARS project.

    I don't have it here but I kind of feel I made a connection with the nice man.

    It wasn't so long after this, that he left us.

    I still think we should aim to get Beagle going; since the Americans found it a couple years back.

    Can it be reached and for good-wills' sake reactivated?

    I think it's a cool idea, anyway.

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