Could We Have Saved the Opportunity Rover? | SciShow News

[♪ INTRO] It finally happened. Last week, after eight months of listening
and hoping, NASA and the entire world had to say goodbye to
the Opportunity rover on Mars. [sniff] I’m not crying; you’re crying. The end of the mission was thanks
to a planet-wide dust storm that started last May and
obscured the Sun for months. It blocked too much light for too long,
which prevented Oppy’s solar panels from charging its batteries and keeping its
internal electronics warm enough to work. NASA first lost contact with the rover back in June, and despite sending it thousands of signals, and even accounting
for the possibility of things like broken radios, they just never heard from it again. So last Wednesday, the team decided it was
officially time to put the rover to bed. Now, Opportunity stands as a monument to human
achievement. But even though we’ve officially had to
say goodbye, that hasn’t stopped some people from wondering
if we’d tried harder, could we have saved Oppy? The short answer is not really, at least, not unless engineers had designed
the rover differently from the beginning. Since Opportunity was mainly
powered by solar panels, it was always at the mercy
of giant dust storms like this. And since there aren’t any other rovers
nearby, it’s not like we could have sent something over to brush it off. So even from the start, engineers knew that
a bunch of dust would be bad news. Now, if Oppy had been powered by
nuclear energy, like the Curiosity rover, it would have survived, no problem. But back when Opportunity was designed, solar
panels were really the only viable option. Even today, the type of plutonium that Curiosity
uses to charge its batteries is in super short supply, the majority of it actually came from
making nuclear weapons during the Cold War. So back when Opportunity was being built,
NASA primarily used it for deep-space missions, like the Voyagers or New Horizons. Opportunity was given a tiny bit
of plutonium to generate heat, but that was mainly to help supplement the electrical
heaters, which were powered by solar panels. I mean, to be fair, Oppy was
originally made for a 90-day mission, so it’s not like it needed a bunch of plutonium. And really, even if this storm had never come
along, the rover would have died eventually. Its batteries were slowly becoming less and
less efficient, so even if the skies on Mars had stayed beautiful and clear, Opportunity
would have eventually lost power. So one way or another, our rover wasn’t
going to last forever. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it did
amazing work during its 15 years of operation. Opportunity was the first rover to identify
sedimentary rocks on another world, and it discovered what
came to be called “blueberries”. They’re gray spheres of a mineral called
hematite that formed from acidic groundwater. And speaking of water, Oppy also found
veins of gypsum at the rim of a crater, which were likely deposited by water,
along with clay minerals in the crater that suggest it
could have been hospitable to life. And in the end, it sent us over 200,000 images
that will produce even more science and inspire us for years to come. Oh, and all of this was despite a lot of setbacks. While it was on Mars, Opportunity
got trapped in a sand dune, survived another planet-wide dust storm,
lost steering capabilities of its two front wheels, and also lost the ability to use its flash memory. So it’s kind of poetic that its final resting place is near
Mars’s equator in a place called Perseverance Valley. For more than a decade, Opportunity has been
one of our best tools for understanding Mars, and the scientists who drove it and analyzed its
data have made the best of a lot of tough situations. But the good news is, even while we’re
mourning the loss of Opportunity, we can still look to humanity’s other efforts
to understand the Red Planet, too. For example, the Curiosity rover is still
ticking and making new observations all the time. And NASA’s InSight lander recently finished
setting up its suite of instruments on Mars to study what’s going on underneath the
planet’s surface. And there are two more rovers
in the immediate works as well. The ESA’s Rosalind Franklin will explore an area
near the Martian equator after it arrives in 2021. And that same year, NASA’s currently-unnamed
Mars 2020 rover is set to land a bit farther east. So even though the Opportunity rover is shut down
for good, there’s a lot to look forward to on Mars. And maybe one day, when we start
sending humans to the Red Planet, we’ll be able to brush off the dust and
tell Oppy how it exceeded our expectations and did a good job right up until the very end. If you want to keep up with all of these missions,
and the discoveries we’re going to make, follow along by subscribing at And as always, thanks for watching this episode
of SciShow Space News! [♪ OUTRO]

About the author


  1. We still can save opportunity. All we have to do is get our lazy greed written warmongering asses from being wrapped around our heads build a spaceship and send an actual manned mission there. Sadly that's definitely not going to happen anytime soon. Because we're too busy trying to amass massive amounts of personal wealth while decimating NASA's budget in favor of the military's so they can go bomb or third world countries to make more terrorists so that people can horde more oil and gain even more wealth to hold in a vault that no one will ever touch or see.

  2. Those teeth.. I just can not handle it. Have to set the phone down and refrain from actually watching the video.

  3. I just want to be able to ping it and find its location so some day you never know…
    Also is there a single data dump of all its public domain pictures on 1 page? Because that would be amazing to look at in memory.

  4. What's happening with the curiosity Rover? Is he still alive?(yes I called curiosity a he) what about the pebbles hitting against?

  5. too bad im sending astronauts to retrieve opportunity and bring him back to earth, recharge his batteries and leave him as a legend, a veteran and a hero

  6. I know we've sent many unmanned science missions to Mars, but would it be at all possible to explore the wondrous mysteries of Uranus with an RTG powered probe?

  7. Well done, Oppy, well done. One day, humanity will be there and you'll have your very own, well deserved, spot where future generations will come to admire tour sheer tenacity. R.I.P.

  8. Oppy Rules! Lived longer, moved free of obstacles, and will now be an Icon of Human exploration of other planets! Rest well Oppy!

  9. Uhm how radioactive are the materials in Oppys heater?
    And how shielded is it?
    Is it little enough to cuddle with Oppy for like 2 or 3 hours?
    A-asking for a friend…

  10. Guys…nasa said that the rover isnt dead it just went into safe mode appearently and they just got it to reboot…so ITS ALIVE❤❤

  11. Talk about burying the lead.

    Cut to 1:56.

    It's important, to understand just a little math here.

    The Mars Opportunity Rover was contracted by NASA & designed and built by JPL to operate on the surface of Mars to conduct experiments for 90-Sols (or roughly 92 3/4 Earth Days). The "Mission Clock" of the Rover itself was not tied to either the landing location, spacecraft or fixed planetary time; but rather used Hybrid Solar Time calculated using the MER Continuous Time Algorithm and NASA began a Mars Sol Counter.

    Now, I mention all of this science and fun if not often confusing trivia only because again, this sweet piece of engineering marvel had a 90-Sol predicted lifespan & it was going into a lot of unknowns at that. I mean watch how it landed, err.. bounced its way onto the surface. That was scary enough! Running a literal Marathon in distance over the surface of the Planet and even going into slopes of 32 degrees, it had its own time math functions for operating and it is important to take that into consideration when talking about life-span.

    Now with that said, if we take just a few seconds to convert NASA's "Sols" for mission operations life, versus time that passed here on Earth, we get some truly startling numbers:

    January 25, 2004 to June 10, 2018 (first & last transmission dates) calculates out to 14 years, 4 months and 17 days (or 5,251 days) of operational two-way communications in Earth Sols.

    That's a heck of a lot longer than 92 3/4 earth days it was built for. It's like buying a new truck that is supposed to last for 10-years before it just dies; but instead you get 200+years out of it before you have to start tweaking things to stay on the road and finally 583+ years pass before it finally just dies.

    Needless to say, this taxpayer investment turned out to be worth 58x better than promised! A historical science experiment gone right (though with its own hiccups) when so many things could go so wrong; but like all things attempting to land on (or in this case, crash into) Mars, your mileage may vary.

  12. Oppy: maybe I might make it home for my next birthday it's only 90 days

    *1 year later

    Opportunity:Maybe if I do better finding things I will go home from my next birthday

    *Many years pasted

    Opportunity: I'm tired of singing Happy birthday alone

    *Sands storm kicks off

    Opportunity: I will go in power saving mode until this and sand storm is over

    *Battery gets low

    Opportunity: I'll just rest here and go into power saving mode

    *Sends a message back to Earth

    "My battery is low and it is getting dark"

  13. Why those scientists never think of install wiper on the solar panel at the 1st place since they know Mars got sand storm? Hahahahhaha.

  14. If you're taking questions Why did NASA name their moon missions Apollo instead of Artemis? Because the moon was associated with Artemis & Apollo with the sun. That has always bugged me, and when I research it the info just says they stuck with Greek mythology names because the first orbital mission was called Mercury.


  16. If there comes a Mars tornado and wipe the rover clean like what happened before will it get power and start working again?

  17. Sometimes, I imagine that when we colonize Mars, there will be a city named opportunity, not built on top of the Rover, but around it. The curiosity Rover is still in the spot where it died and sits in a large spire built in the middle (and around the Rover), a memory to the first steps in making Mars our own.
    Edit: the Spire is named Perserverance after the valley

  18. David Bowie: Walks over to Opportunity Rover You did good. And now that you're job is done. We can be heroes…

    Forever, And Ever…

    (This is a better way to think about it.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *