NASA's Opportunity, the Mars rover that was built to operate for just three months but kept going and going, was pronounced dead Wednesday, 15 years after it landed on the red planet. The six-wheeled vehicle that helped gather critical evidence that ancient Mars might have been hospitable to life was remarkably spry up until eight months ago, when it was finally doomed by a ferocious dust storm. Flight controllers tried numerous times to make contact and sent one final series of recovery commands Tuesday night along with one last wake-up song, Billie Holiday's "I'll Be Seeing You," reports the AP. There was no response from space, only silence.
Opportunity was exploring Mars' Perseverance Valley, fittingly, when the fiercest dust storm in decades hit, darkening the sky for months and preventing sunlight from reaching the rover's solar panels. When the sky finally cleared, Opportunity remained silent, its internal clock possibly so scrambled that it no longer knew when to sleep or wake up to receive commands. Flight controllers sent more than 1,000 recovery commands, all in vain. With project costs reaching about $500,000 a month, NASA decided there was no point in continuing. The golf cart-size Opportunity outlived its twin, the Spirit rover, by several years. The two slow-moving vehicles landed on opposite sides of the planet in 2004 for a mission that was meant to last 90 days. In the end, Opportunity set endurance and distance (28 miles roamed) records that could stand for years, if not decades. (Last month, the principal investigator for the mission said the rover would have died "an honorable death.")