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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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A lost Opportunity

14 February 2019

Why does the word "Opportunity" in the title of today's column have a capital letter?

Well it's because I'm being clever (well, it's my version of clever) and am actually using "Opportunity" as a proper noun.

Still confused?

Okay, I'm not referring to an opportunity, I'm referring to the Mars rover called Opportunity.

Phew, now we've got that out of the way.

But bad news for all you Opportunity fanbois, it seems that NASA have conceded that the 15-year-old craft has taken the big dirt nap, quit, succumbed to the icy cold of a nasty dust storm that swept the planet a little while back.

Despite much prodding and poking via radio calls, Opportunity has failed to respond.

To quote "Bones" McCoy... "he's dead Jim".

Now while this is definitely a disappointment, it should be remembered what a remarkable success this little machine actually was.

Initially dumped on the surface of the red planet back in January 2004, its designed operational life was a mere 90 days. It actually survived and continued to function for almost forty times longer than that.

Okay, she wasn't too shiny or 100% functional towards the end but Opportunity kept sending back data, doing science and providing us with some stunning images of Mars that have furthered our knowledge and understanding of the planet immensely.

Over the past decade and a half, it has traveled some 45Km across the surface, encountering some of the most variable and challenging terrain in the process.

Unlike the most recent (nuclear powered) rover, Opportunity has been solely reliant on its solar panels and batteries to keep it supplied with energy. This was working well, with batteries still able to hold 85% of their original capacity, until last June, when a massive dust storm engulfed the entire planet.

With its solar cells effectively rendered useless by a thick blanket of dust, the rover's batteries became exhausted and thus the temperatures of critical components (such as the batteries themselves) fell to levels that produced permanent damage.

Bugger!

However, it is an incredible testament to mankind's innovation and engineering excellence that we were able to put mechanical life on Mars and that it "lived" for so very long, in the face of such a harsh environment.

I am pretty sure that one day, Opportunity and its sibling Spirit, will be recovered and placed in a space museum -- where it will live on as an icon of our early attempts to explore other planets.

Just a bugger that I won't be around to see it.

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