On February 1st, 2019,
members of the Mars Exploration team
gathered at NASA's JPL headquarters
to say their final goodbye
to one of space explorations greatest pioneers,
the Opportunity Rover.
I wanted to say,
with the completion of tonight's commanding,
this concludes operations for MER-1 spacecraft ID 253.
And on behalf of the entire MER project,
we'd like to thank the DSN for over 15 and a half years
of outstanding support, from launch until tonight.
And this is station 14,
on behalf of the network,
thank you for your comments,
and it's a sad day for all of us.
14, you are released.
And 14 copies.
MER Project, off the net.
In an instant,
the lights went out on a record journey of almost 15 years.
A far cry from the expected 90 days survival rate.
In it's wake,
Opportunity has left a history-redefining legacy.
We have been given the opportunity,
by a team of engineers 15 years ago,
who built two of the most extraordinary pieces
of space exploration hardware ever conceived and built.
You only get to do something like this
for the first time once.
Well sort of,
after all, the program did construct twin Rovers,
destined to land in two locations
on opposite sides of the planet.
A redundancy designed to increase their chance of success.
Spirit was the first to break away from Earth's gravity,
with Opportunity lighting up the Florida night sky
a few weeks later,
as it too rocketed towards
our closest planetary neighbor, Mars.
It wasn't an easy trip.
Solar storms a few months into the journey
bombarded the Rovers with brutal radiation.
NASA's $850 million explorers
weren't communicating with home.
It was a nail biting moment,
until Mission Control tried the old IT help desk stand-by,
turning your Rover off and back on again.
first crisis averted.
Now, to the really harrowing part of the mission,
landing on Mars.
Hurtling at 16,000 miles per hour,
about 10 times the speed of a bullet.
The heat shield in front of the Rover vehicle
got about as hot as the surface of the Sun.
A supersonic parachute deployed.
It was time for everyone back on Earth
to strap themselves in.
It was going to be a bumpy ride.
Current altitude 8000 feet.
The heat shield jettisoned.
The airbags blew up in less than 1,000th of a second.
And then she bounced.
We're getting a bouncing signal.
We are getting a bounce signal.
Confirmation that space craft is bouncing and alive on Mars.
We have a momentary loss of signal,
as the space craft is bouncing on the surface.
It is difficult to maintain lock.
We need to reacquire the signal,
to have positive confirmation of a safe landing.
But there's always a possibility something goes wrong,
something you didn't account for,
or just bad luck,
like really sharp pointy rocks
right where you want it to land
that might puncture the airbags.
But these are the risks that you take
when you're going someplace where you've never been,
that you know is dangerous and unknown.
We're seeing it on the LCP.
(Crowd cheers and Applauds)
We have a very strong signal.
(indistinct radio chatter)
(cheering and applause)
Finally the airbags deflated,
and the solar arrays opened up,
charging the power hungry little Rover.
And she lifted her head,
the panoramic camera,
and sent her first beautiful, "We are here." postcard.
When Opportunity sent back that first picture
from Eagle Crater,
that night is burned in my brain,
I will never forget it.
It was such a dramatic image of Mars.
And it was so different
than any images we've seen before.
It was now time
for Opportunity to get to work.
the quest for the holy grail of planetary exploration,
It was initially planned as a 90 day expedition
that would stretch on for 15 years.
The Mars Exploration Program had this long standing goal
of searching for signs of life on Mars.
But that's a really big question.
That's a really hard question to answer.
So we started with something a little more simple.
A little more fundamental.
Was there ever water, liquid water on Mars?
Where and for how long?
And that was what Spirit an Opportunity
really went out to go look for.
Golf cart sized Spirit and Opportunity
were designed to be wandering geologists.
Instead of pics and hammers, though,
they have little particle blasters
that they use to take samples,
and spectrometers and microscopes to examine them.
And wouldn't you know it,