Thursday 17 October 2019

‘Godspeed, Oppy’: Emotional tributes as Mars Opportunity rover pronounced dead

Twitter was awash with farewell messages to Nasa’s Opportunity rover as it was pronounced dead after 15 years on Mars.

Self-portrait dated 18/2/2005 of Opportunity, Nasa’s longest-running rover on Mars – which has been pronounced dead 15 years after it landed on the red planet (Nasa/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/PA)
Self-portrait dated 18/2/2005 of Opportunity, Nasa’s longest-running rover on Mars – which has been pronounced dead 15 years after it landed on the red planet (Nasa/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/PA)

By Stephen Jones, Press Association

Emotions were running high on social media as the universe waved goodbye to Nasa’s Opportunity rover after 15 years on the surface of Mars.

Former US president Barack Obama led tributes to the vehicle, which was only built to operate for three months but ended up surviving far, far longer.

He wrote: “Don’t be sad it’s over, be proud it taught us so much. Congrats to all the men and women of @NASAon a @MarsRovers mission that beat all expectations, inspired a new generation of Americans, and demands we keep investing in science that pushes the boundaries of human knowledge.”

Opportunity and its long-dead twin, Spirit, found evidence that ancient Mars had water flowing on its surface and may have been capable of sustaining life.

Flight controllers tried on several occasions to contact Opportunity and sent one final series of recovery commands on Tuesday night, accompanied by one last wake-up song, Billie Holiday’s I’ll Be Seeing You. However, there was only silence in response.

That meant Opportunity’s final message was made in June 2018, to the effect of “my battery is low and it’s getting dark”.

For many, it was simply too much to take.

Writer Jocelyn Rish tweeted: “I never imagined I’d be sitting at my computer crying over a last message from a robot on Mars, but here I sit wiping away tears. Job well done, #Oppy.”

Former Star Trek actor George Takei said: “A sad, sad development for #Opportunity and for @NASA. Perhaps one day we shall find you again, friend, when humans finally set foot on Mars.”

Others felt compelled to offer a message in terms the rover itself would understand.

Twitter user @dutchess_becky wrote: “Dear Opportunity, 01000111 01101111 01100100 01110011 01110000 01100101 01100101 01100100 00100000 01001111 01110000 01110000 01111001, from A Martian Fan.”

Converted from binary to English text, the message reads: “Godspeed Oppy.”

Similar sentiments were shared among space professionals themselves.

Dr Tanya Harrison, director of research at ASU NewSpace, said she spent the evening at Nasa’s jet propulsion laboratory as the final commands were sent.

She tweeted: “There was silence. There were tears. There were hugs. There were memories and laughs shared. #ThankYouOppy #GoodnightOppy”

One Nasa scientist who worked as an engineer on the Opportunity project since 2007 revealed she had a tattoo made up in tribute to it.

“This tattoo means more to me than just Oppy. Of course, the biggest significance is this is Oppy’s final measurement. I studied tau (atmospheric optical depth) as a student researcher. Don’t worry, I consulted my advisor on the value before committing to the ink,” said Keri Bean on Twitter.

One of the more eloquent tributes on Twitter came from poet Dylan Thomas, via graphic designer Dan Mason.

“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” he tweeted.

“Projected mission lifespan: 90 days. Achieved lifespan: 15 years. You had a good innings, #Oppy.”

PA Media

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