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It’s a fall afternoon at Endeavour Crater. The summer winds finally lost their energy and the dust storm season is over. But there are no more signals coming from Earth. No more comm sessions with the orbiters. Nothing like it used to be.
At around 8 pm February 12, 2019, Pacific Standard Time (PST), the final commands were transmitted to Opportunity, the Mars Exploration Rover that defied all odds.
As a string of dust storms moved through Meridiani Planum and over Endeavour Crater in January, Opportunity silently wrapped her fifteenth year on the surface of Mars.
It’s now been more than six and a half months that the longest-lived robot on another planet has been incommunicado.
The longest-lived Martian explorer remained silent in November, presumably still sleeping at her site halfway down Perseverance Valley, along the western rim of Endeavour Crater.
October came and went without a beep from Opportunity, silence that was still no surprise for some, but a little discouraging for other members of the rover team.
As the global storm that wrapped the Red Planet in a cloud of dust since late June finally gave up the ghost in September, the sky continued to clear over Endeavour Crater and the Opportunity team initiated the NASA-approved two-step plan to reestablish contact with the rover.
The dust raising power of the storms that wrapped Mars in a cloud in June and July diminished in August. Meanwhile, on Earth, the Opportunity team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory reviewed recovery plans, conducted additional simulations, and began wrapping the month with newfound reasons to believe Opportunity can emerge from her hibernation.
As Opportunity slept in Perseverance Valley under the thick cloud of dust that has blanketed the Red Planet for the last six weeks, scientists who are studying the monster storm that forced the robot field geologist into its hibernation mode are now reporting the tempest has peaked.
As a monster dust storm grew to encircle the Red Planet in June, Opportunity spent most of the month in the dark, presumably sleeping in a hibernation mode as the skies over Endeavour Crater became darker and darker.
Entrenched in the west rim of Endeavour Crater, veteran robot field geologist Opportunity is hunkered down in Perseverance Valley in a kind of hibernation mode.
Opportunity continued exploring the south trough of Perseverance in May, still looking for evidence that explains just how this one-of-a-kind valley meandering through Endeavour Crater’s rim formed.
Opportunity spent April further exploring the area about halfway down Perseverance Valley, checking out unusual, vesicular or pitted rocks the likes of which she has never seen, while officials prepared the mission’s bid to keep the robot field geologist roving through 2019.
For the 15th year in a row, Opportunity drove into the spotlight during an afternoon session at the 49th Lunar & Planetary Science Conference.
In the west rim of Endeavour Crater, Opportunity continued her exploration of Perseverance Valley in March.
When Opportunity’s 5000th day dawned in February, it was a meaningful milestone for the team, and it led to a personal first for the veteran robot field geologist that has chalked up so many firsts she’s set the standard for Mars rovers.
In January, Opportunity quietly completed 14 years of surface operations on Mars—the longest-lived robot on another planet.
With the Martian winter on the run, Opportunity cruised closer to its 14th anniversary of exploring the Red Planet in December as she deliberated a distinctive “fork in the road” deep in Perseverance Valley and wrapped another record year.
Opportunity continued the historic winter science campaign inside Perseverance Valley and delivered the goods that confirmed an important discovery in November, and then cruised through winter solstice, driving the mission closer to its 14th anniversary of surface operations coming up in January.
As brutally cold got even colder at Endeavour Crater in October, the depths of winter gripped Opportunity, and ‘life’ on Mars slowed. But the robot field geologist continued to work on through the doldrums of the season.
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