You may recall a post I did back in 2012 about it being the ninth anniversary of the unsuccessful Beagle mission to Mars.
I said that it had been doomed to failure anyway, but even so I was quite upset by it. At about the time that Beagle was piggybacked on a mission from the ESA, NASA launched the Spirit/Opportunity rover missions. Spirit was operational from January 2004, got stuck in a crevasse, and ceased functioning in 2010. This in itself was remarkable, since the thing had been expected to last about 90 days, not six years. That’s quite some engineering.
Even more remarkable was the endurance of its sister, Opportunity. That was still functioning until June of this year. I say ‘functioning,’ but its age was showing a bit. Back in late 2014, it started suffering from amnesia. Yes, the little fellah (Little? About the size of a golf buggy) became forgetful. Happens to the best of us, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, it patiently carried on doing what it had been designed for the best part of 58 times its planned life expectancy.
In June, a mahousive dust storm was seen to be brewing, and communications ceased on the 10th, and Mission Control put it into hibernation on the 12th. However, she seems not to want to wake up again. Theories include the batteries are too cold to operate, or dust on the solar panels. It might be even more extreme, with a catastrophic system failure also on the cards.
The controllers are reaching the point now when they stop trying to rouse Opportunity and trying to talk to her. After that they’re going into passive listening mode, just keeping an ear open for any chance signals. The passive listening will last until January.
I rather suspect that come the end of January, when they have to accept the mission has come to an end, the mission team will be sniffing back the tears a bit. They’ve put in the hours, the days, the months, the years, and the mission can’t ever be regarded as a failure. But the carnival will be over.
Sterling effort though.