A little, lost opportunity

To lose an opportunity is a devilish occurrence. For the most part, it can come out of nowhere, camouflaged, every bit of anticipation dissipating away, you’re back to square one. That’s what NASA must have felt when they declared last month that the Opportunity Mars Rover had been announced as ‘lost’ on the dusty dunes of the red planet.

Nicknamed Oppy, the tiny robot touched down on Mars in 2004 with the purpose of spending 90 sols (about 92 ‘earth’ days) observing the surface of the planet made by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter instruments. The time-period of this voyage up in space was extended to 5,352 sols, but who’s counting, eh? It was known as one of NASA’s most successful missions. Oppy’s achievements during this big mission were discoveries and studies. For example, it discovered the Heat Shield Rock, a basketball-sized Martian meteorite, and it studied the Victoria crater, 730 metres-wide on the Meridiani Planum extraterrestrial plain. For over a decade, Oppy scoured this ground searching for any signs that liquid sat on the planet in ancient times.

It didn’t do it all on its own, however. The Mars Rover also shared the planet with Spirit, its twin-like robot. Spirit, unfortunately, ran into a sand trap in 2010 and, with the Martian winter approaching, froze to death. But Opportunity lasted almost a decade longer. The robot clocked up some pretty impressive records for NASA, being the longest-surviving human-made contraption to occupy another world. In late May last year, NASA spotted a strong whirlpool surrounding Oppy, that engulfed it, preventing the bot from recharging its batteries and slipping it into a long sleep. Now that the storm has cleared and the empty Mars surface cleans itself with space dust, the robot remains as a lost opportunity, unable to wake from its much deserved sleep. RIP Oppy.