NASA Has Lost Contact With Opportunity, Its Long-Running Martian Rover

“Now that they updated the press release again, I can say I sat on console this morning and it was really hard not to cry when Opportunity didn’t contact us,” said Keri Bean, a science planner whose Twitter profile says she is in training to operate Mars rovers.

A former Mars rover driver, Scott Maxwell, listened to the press conference and had high praise for one of the engineers. “It should be said that one reason the batteries are doing so well is [Opportunity’s] lead power engineer, Jennifer Herman,” he said. “She, more than any other single person, is why we survived the 2007 storm, and she, more than any other single person, is why we’re in such good shape for this storm.”

The Opportunity rover was only designed to last 90 days when it landed on Mars in January 2004, so engineers remain impressed with its stamina. The batteries are still at 85 percent of their original strength and all of the instruments are working. In its years of operations, the rover has had some small mechanical issues, as well as difficulties with its flash memory, which lets the rover store information even when it is turned off.

The rover is already a veteran of one large dust storm in 2007, but it survived and continued crawling — covering more than the distance of a marathon since its landing. It has collected evidence of water on Mars and explored two large craters, called Victoria and Endeavour. It even escaped a dust trap, avoiding a fate that helped kill its twin rover, Spirit, in 2010.

NASA’s thermal models for Opportunity suggest the rover will get no colder than minus 36 degrees Celsius (minus 33 degrees Fahrenheit), which is well above its allowable flight temperature of minus 40°C (minus 40°F)

“We think we can ride this out for a while,” Callas said.

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