What Will Happen To The Mars Rover Opportunity's Remains?

On February 13, 2019, NASA declared the Opportunity rover mission complete. The last transmission from "Oppy" was sent during a planet-wide dust storm on June 10, 2018. Months after the storm ended and the Martian sky cleared, NASA scientists believed wind would remove the dust from the solar panels and let the batteries recharge. Despite sending more than a thousand recovery commands to try and revive Opportunity, the rover never responded.

According to NASA, Opportunity was one of two rovers sent to Mars to look for ancient water. It launched on July 7, 2003, and throughout its almost 15-year mission, the rover traversed more than 28 miles of the red planet's surface. That's a pretty surprising figure, considering Opportunity's original mission was only supposed to last 90 days. During its time, the rover provided a litany of new scientific discoveries, including evidence that ancient water capable of supporting microbial life had existed on Mars long ago. It also helped inspire a whole new generation to look to the stars, as detailed by National Geographic.

The dust storm that forced the little rover to hunker down in Perseverance Valley — where it still sits today — was historical. That said, the storm was more "diffuse and patchy" than previous ones, according to NASA, as some past storms had completely hid all but the tallest Martian volcanoes.

The mission was a great Opportunity for all mankind

Ultimately, Opportunity fell victim to the storm, bringing its mission to an end. Unlike what early reports claimed, the rover's last words weren't "My battery is low and it's getting dark," however. Opportunity project manager John Callas reports that the rover didn't actually say anything at all, but did transmit data indicating the skies were so dark that no sunlight could get through (via Newsweek). With its mission officially over and its power gone, what will happen to the little rover?

Jeff Moersch was a member of the Opportunity team and is now a professor of planetary science at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. In an interview with Live Science, Moersch said any exposed pieces of plastic will likely decay but otherwise, the rover should stay relatively intact for quite some time. Dust was blamed for draining Opportunity's power supply during the initial storm and it'll probably coat the rover for the foreseeable future. Still, he doesn't think the lost robot will become fully buried anytime soon.

The rover will eventually be buried if it stays on Mars for millions of years, but humans will likely get to the red planet sooner rather than later. Given our penchant for preserving historical icons, we will undoubtedly attempt to retrieve "Oppy" and put it into a museum where it can be rightfully honored for paving the way to Mars.