(p. A13) NASA’s Opportunity rover began its 15th year on Mars this week, although the intrepid robotic explorer may already be dead.
“I haven’t given up yet,” said Steven W. Squyres, the principal investigator for the mission. But he added, “This could be the end. Under the assumption that this is the end, it feels good. I mean that.”
The rover — which outlasted all expectations since its landing on Mars in 2004 and helped find convincing geological signs that water once flowed there — fell silent last June when it was enveloped by a global Martian dust storm. In darkness, the solar panels could not generate enough power to keep Opportunity awake.
. . .
Years ago, Dr. Squyres said no matter when the mission ended, he was sure that there would be some tantalizing mystery they would see just beyond reach.
On Thursday [January 24, 2019], he said that indeed seems to be the case. Opportunity was in the middle of exploring what looks like a gully that was formed by the flowing of water on ancient Mars. As expected, the gully looks eroded near the top, but the rover had not reached the bottom to look at where the sediments would have flowed.
The scientists had rejected some alternative hypotheses, but other ideas could also explain the landscape. “So far, the story is uncertain,” Dr. Squyres said. “The answer probably lies just down the hill.”
For the full story, see:
Kenneth Chang. “NASA’s Opportunity Rover May Have Reached Its End.” The New York Times (Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019): A13.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Jan. 25, 2019, and has the title “‘This Could Be the End’ for NASA’s Mars Opportunity Rover.”)