Opportunity landed on Mars 15 years ago on Jan. 24, 2004, and in that time helped lay the groundwork for NASA's return to the planet. Calling it "one of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration," the space agency said Opportunity was designed to last just 90 days and, instead performed beyond anyone's highest expectations.
Opportunity, which landed about 20 days after its twin rover Spirit, explored 28 miles of the rugged Martian landscape, compared to Spirit’s five miles, climbing over rocks and boulders, up and down steep, gravel-strewn slopes. It traveled to crater floors, across dry riverbeds and to the summit of hills.
"It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. "And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration," he said.
“Oppy” ended its historic mission appropriately enough in a place called Perseverance Valley.
"For more than a decade, Opportunity has been an icon in the field of planetary exploration, teaching us about Mars' ancient past as a wet, potentially habitable planet, and revealing uncharted Martian landscapes," NASA's associate administrator for the agency's Science Mission Directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said in a statement.
"Whatever loss we feel now must be tempered with the knowledge that the legacy of Opportunity continues – both on the surface of Mars with the Curiosity rover and InSight lander – and in the clean rooms of JPL, where the upcoming Mars 2020 rover is taking shape," Zurbuchen said.
Opportunity fans are mourning the rover’s loss on social media.