Pasadena, CA (February 13, 2019) — The Planetary Society, the world’s largest independent space interest organization, issued the following statement in reaction to the formal end of operations of the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity:
“On behalf of our 50,000 members around the world, we congratulate the Mars Exploration Rover Mission team for completing the most successful reconnaissance of the Martian surface in human history. Opportunity was an exceptional rover driven by an exceptional team of people. Its profound success was due to their commitment, ingenuity, and endurance.
There is no shortage of opportunities for further science and exploration of Mars to build on Spirit and Opportunity’s achievements. However, no new NASA missions for Mars have been approved since 2012—the longest mission drought in more than 3 decades. This needs to change.
The path forward is clear. The Mars science community agrees that sample return is the next logical step for Mars exploration. Mars sample return will be NASA’s greatest challenge yet—but the potential for scientific discovery is unparalleled.
NASA is already taking the first step in sample return with its Mars 2020 rover, which will collect and prepare samples of the Martian surface for a future return to Earth. However, NASA has not committed to the necessary follow-on missions that would carry these precious samples back to Earth. We must begin formulating sample retrieval and return missions in order to make the most of decades of U.S. taxpayer investment in NASA’s Mars program.”
“On the distant plains of Mars, the Opportunity rover now joins its twin, Spirit, as a monument to humankind’s drive to explore and discover. One day, our descendants will visit both spacecraft and marvel at the ingenuity of their creators. Future Mars explorers will be welcomed by an inscription onboard the spacecraft: ‘To those who visit here, we wish a safe journey and the joy of discovery.’ For us back on Earth, it was a joy to share in Opportunity’s discoveries. I can’t wait to see what’s next for us on Mars.”
“The Mars Exploration Rover mission opened up a new era of open data for NASA by sharing their images on the Internet as soon as they arrived on Earth. The policy inspired many other missions — not just within NASA, but around the world — to share their data more openly. Their generous policy created an international amateur imaging team who gave back to the mission their gorgeous, evocative renderings of Spirit and Opportunity’s imagery. The rovers may be silent, but their legacy lives on in this international data artist community.”
The Planetary Society has inspired millions of people to explore other worlds and seek other life. With the mission to empower the world's citizens to advance space science and exploration, its international membership makes the non-governmental Planetary Society the largest space interest group in the world. Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray and Louis Friedman founded The Planetary Society in 1980. Bill Nye, a longtime member of The Planetary Society's Board, serves as CEO.