A Fond Farewell To An Old Explorer

February 15,2019- The Mars rover Explorer has run out of power and died on the Martian surface. It came to its end after being caught up in a dust storm. It had spent fifteen years exploring the Martian surface. While there is another rover on Mars, Curiosity, it is too far away to get to Explorer in time before the harshness of the Martian winter descends and does severe damage to Explorer. In addition, Curiosity is incapable of performing repairs even if it could reach Explorer in time.

In its fifteen-year career, Explorer discovered many things about the Martian landscape. The rover was in fact designed to only last ninety days, far exceeding NASA’s plans for it. During its career, it discovered Mars had a very wet past (perhaps enough water to have once even supported life?) and explored formerly uncharted regions of the red planet.

The little rover faced challenges along the way. In 2005, it lost its front wheel steering and was caught in a sand ripple. In 2007, Explorer faced a two-month long dust storm. In 2017, it lost steering to its other front wheel. The NASA team back on Earth managed to help the rover bounce back before it was too late on other occasions, but this dust storm proved too great for it to endure. A Martian dust storm is a powerful thing with clouds of dust sometimes reaching up to seventy-five feet, sometimes covering the entirety of the planet and can also have lightning strikes. Explorer found its final resting place in Perseverance Valley, a fitting end.

A Successful Mission

Before meeting its end, Explorer made a number of accomplishments. It sent back 217,000 images of the Martian landscape back to Earth, found a mineral that forms in water known as hematite-evidence of Mars’ watery past-and exposed the surface of fifty-two rocks for analysis. At Endeavor Crater, the rover found strong evidence of what may have been drinkable water similar to lake water on Earth.

John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover, had this to say about Explorer:

“When I think of Opportunity, I will recall that place on Mars where our intrepid rover far exceeded everyone’s expectations. “But what I suppose I’ll cherish most is the impact Opportunity had on us here on Earth. It’s the accomplished exploration and phenomenal discoveries. It’s the generation of young scientists and engineers who became space explorers with this mission. It’s the public that followed along with our every step. And it’s the technical legacy of the Mars Exploration Rovers, which is carried aboard Curiosity and the upcoming Mars 2020 mission. Farewell, Opportunity, and well done.”

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