Nasa says goodbye to Mars Opportunity rover as it is sent touching final message

Nasa engineers said goodbye to the Opportunity rover with a touching final message.

The little robot spent 15 years exploring the surface of Mars, sending back unprecedented amounts of information to engineers back on Earth.

But months ago the signals it was sending back started to look worrying. It told Nasa its batteries were running low and it was getting dark – before it was swallowed by a dust storm that took over the entire planet.

Since then, Nasa has been sending messages to the rover in the hope of waking it up and bringing it back to life. But last week Nasa decided to stop, bringing the mission to an end and declaring Opportunity dead on Mars.

Before it did, engineers sent a final message to the rover, as a way of saying goodbye. After sending its last series of recovery commands, flight controllers sent one last wake-up song.

The tune was Billie Holiday’s ‘I’ll Be Seeing You’, which ends with the words:

I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you

But no response came back from space. Nasa flight controllers only heard silence.

Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science missions, broke the news at what amounted to a funeral at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, announcing the demise of “our beloved Opportunity.”

“This is a hard day,” project manager John Callas said at an auditorium packed with hundreds of current and former members of the team that oversaw Opportunity and its long-deceased identical twin, Spirit. “Even though it’s a machine and we’re saying goodbye, it’s still very hard and very poignant, but we had to do that. We came to that point.”

It meant Opportunity’s final message was made in June 2018, to the effect of “my battery is low and it’s getting dark”.

For many, it was simply too much to take.

Writer Jocelyn Rish tweeted: “I never imagined I’d be sitting at my computer crying over a last message from a robot on Mars, but here I sit wiping away tears. Job well done, Oppy.”

Former Star Trek actor George Takei said: “A sad, sad development for £Opportunity and for NASA. Perhaps one day we shall find you again, friend, when humans finally set foot on Mars.”

Others felt compelled to offer a message in terms the rover itself would understand.

Twitter user dutchess-becky wrote: “Dear Opportunity, 01000111 01101111 01100100 01110011 01110000 01100101 01100101 01100100 00100000 01001111 01110000 01110000 01111001, from A Martian Fan.”

Converted from binary to English text, the message reads: “Godspeed Oppy.”

Similar sentiments were shared among space professionals themselves.

Dr Tanya Harrison, director of research at ASU NewSpace, said she spent the evening at Nasa’s jet propulsion laboratory as the final commands were sent.

She tweeted: “There was silence. There were tears. There were hugs. There were memories and laughs shared.”

One Nasa scientist who worked as an engineer on the Opportunity project since 2007 revealed she had a tattoo made up in tribute to it.

“This tattoo means more to me than just Oppy. Of course, the biggest significance is this is Oppy’s final measurement. I studied tau (atmospheric optical depth) as a student researcher. Don’t worry, I consulted my advisor on the value before committing to the ink,” said Keri Bean on Twitter.

One of the more eloquent tributes on Twitter came from poet Dylan Thomas, via graphic designer Dan Mason.

“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” he tweeted.

“Projected mission lifespan: 90 days. Achieved lifespan: 15 years. You had a good innings, Oppy.”

Additional reporting by agencies


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