NASA is trying one last time to contact its record-setting Mars rover Opportunity, before calling it quits.
The rover has been silent for eight months, victim of one of the most intense dust storms in decades. Thick dust darkened the sky last summer and, for months, blocked sunlight from the spacecraft’s solar panels.
NASA said Tuesday it will issue a final series of recovery commands, on top of more than 1,000 already sent. If there’s no response by Wednesday – which NASA suspects will be the case – Opportunity will be declared dead, 15 years after arriving at the red planet.
Team members are already looking back at Opportunity’s achievements, including confirmation water once flowed on Mars. Opportunity was, by far, the longest-lasting lander on Mars. Besides endurance, the six-wheeled rover set a roaming record of 28 miles (45 kilometers.)
Its identical twin, Spirit, was pronounced dead in 2011, a year after it got stuck in sand and communication ceased.
Both outlived and outperformed expectations, on opposite sides of Mars. The golf cart-size rovers were designed to operate as geologists for just three months, after bouncing onto our planetary neighbor inside cushioning air bags in January 2004. They rocketed from Cape Canaveral a month apart in 2003.