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WASHINGTON | The robot Opportunity, which was travelling on Mars since 2004, and confirmed that water once flowed, should be declared dead Wednesday by Nasa, marking the official end of one of the missions the most successful in the history of the exploration of the solar system.
The contact is lost since June 10, 2018, when a storm of dust covered the red planet, obscured the atmosphere for several months and prevented the rover to recharge its batteries.
After eight months and hundreds of messages sent from the Earth remained without response, Nasa announced that the last attempt had taken place on Tuesday evening. The community of researchers and engineers involved in the program seemed to have been mourning the legendary rover.
“I spent the night at JPL for the latest orders sent to the rover Opportunity on Mars. It was quiet. We cried. We hugged each other. We shared memories and laughter, ” tweeted Tanya Harrison, director of research at the Arizona State University and collaborator of the program, installed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles.
“Good luck, Opportunity “, also wrote to Keri Bean, who had “the privilege” of sending the final message to the robot, in the evening of Tuesday.
“Hail to the queen of Mars,” tweeted Mike Seibert, a former pilot of Opportunity.
The end of the mission is expected to be confirmed officially by the head of Nasa, and by the program of exploration of mars, during a press conference in Pasadena (California).
It is here that generations of scientists have succeeded to control the rover.
Its balance sheet is extraordinary in the history of planetary exploration: 45,16 kilometres travelled, more than the rover, the soviet Lunokhod 2 on the Moon in the 1970s, and more than the rover led by the american astronauts of the mission Apollo 17 on the Moon in 1972 (35 km).
Opportunity was also sent to Earth 217.594 images, all available on the internet.
One rover active
“For the general public, Mars has become the vibrant place that we could explore all day “, told AFP Emily Lakdawalla, expert on space exploration who has written for the Planetary Society.
“The rover was so mobile that it seemed to be a creature animated “, she continues. “He had this perspective quasi-human on the surface of Mars, his eyes were as wide apart as human eyes, a height of approximately 1.50 metres from the ground, like humans. It was like an avatar of humanity that traveled to the surface “.
Opportunity had landed on a large plain where he spent half of his life, through miles of flat and remaining even blocked a few weeks in a sand dune. This is where the robot, with its instruments of geology, it was confirmed that liquid water was one day on Mars.
The second part of his life, he climbed up the flanks of the crater Endeavour, taking in spectacular panoramic shots… and discovering veins of gypsum, new evidence that water flowed between the rocks.
Its twin, Spirit, landed three weeks before him, and died in 2010. The two have largely fulfilled the expectations of their designers: their duties were to theoretically last 90 days, durations are often exceeded, but rarely much…
Only one rover is still active on Mars, also american: Curiosity, which landed in 2012. It is not dependent on the Sun because its energy comes from a small nuclear reactor.
In 2021, he will be joined, on a other site of the planet, for the robot recently baptized Rosalind Franklin, in the framework of the mission européano-Russian ExoMars.