Earlier this week, news began to spread that the Mars rover Opportunity had reached the end of its robotic life and people were, understandably, upset. The solar-powered rover was initially sent on a 90-day mission to the red planet but managed to stay remarkably functional for nearly fifteen years until a planet-wide dust storm knocked it out of commission last summer. As reported by AP, NASA made their final attempt to contact Opportunity Tuesday night with a transmission of Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
“This is a hard day,” project manager John Callas told the crowd of NASA employees gathered for the farewell transmission. “Even though it’s a machine and we’re saying goodbye, it’s still very hard and very poignant, but we had to do that. We came to that point.”
Unfortunately, the rover never responded to the musical message, and its silence confirmed NASA engineers’ suspicion that its battery was long dead. Still, the image of the lonely, dust-covered robot listening to a crackling version of a Billie Holiday tune in the middle of an empty, red wasteland is almost too good to resist. It’s like a darker, alternate ending to Wall-E.
But Opportunity’s demise is not the end of our Mars exploration. There are still two functioning rovers on the planet’s surface—Curiosity, which launched in 2012, and InSight, which was just launched last spring. Hopefully, those two have many years of geological excavation ahead of them before they’re treated to a somber, jazzy send-off.
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