‘Like a close friend’: Students react to termination of Mars rover

NASA’s Opportunity rover, nicknamed ‘Oppy,’ was declared terminated after about 14 and a half years, far beyond its life expectancy of 92 days.

After eight months of failed attempts to communicate with Opportunity, a Mars rover deployed in 2003, a team of engineers at NASA tried to wake the rover one more time on Feb. 13, playing Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You.” But as they expected, the rover didn’t wake. It was then that associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen declared the rover formally known as ‘Oppy’ dead.

“So many people had an emotional connection to this hunk of metal because it sparked nostalgic feelings of exploration that we dreamt of as children,” said sophomore business major Jocelyn Dawson.

The Mars rover ended its mission after more than 15 years. Since June 2018, Opportunity was unresponsive to NASA scientists after a May 2018 dust storm that blanketed the rover. The rover’s final message was received on June 10, according to NASA.

A twitter thread from journalist Jacob Margolis regarding the Mars rover went viral with around 21,000 retweets and 39,000 likes. They weren’t actually Opportunity’s last words, but a summary of the messages NASA received.

“The last message (NASA) received was basically, ‘My battery is low and it’s getting dark.’ They hoped that the windy season would clear the dust off the solar panels (if that was the problem),” he tweeted Feb.12.

Opportunity was made to last for only 90 martian days, which translates to about 92 Earth days, and to travel 1,100 yards. Not only did the rover live for 5,400 martian days, roughly 14 and a half years, but it traveled 28 miles according to NASA, which is almost 45 times what the scientists had anticipated.

“By studying Mars, there’s a lot it could tell us about what might be the future of our planet,” said Madison Burris, sophomore physics major at Chapman.

The rover launched into space in July 2003 and landed on Jan. 25, 2004, alongside its twin Spirit. The robot was meant to observe Mars’ geology.

Opportunity made discoveries that signaled the presence of water on the planet in 2004, which led scientists to believe that Mars could be hospitable to life, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Opportunity was 14 years old at the time of the 2018 dust storm. NASA tried to communicate with over 1,000 commands since June but to no avail, according to Time Magazine.

“(Opportunity) gave me hope for a future in which we critically think about the sustainability of our world,” Dawson said. “In the age of technology, we were able to frequently check up on (the rover) like a close friend.”

A new Mars rover named InSight launched in May of 2018. This rover is able to detect the weather on Mars available at any time, according to NASA.

“Just as a human being on Earth, knowing that something of our creation is out there makes people have special connection (to it),” Burris said.