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NASA bids adieu to the Mars rover that kept going and going and going

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A remarkably durable NASA rover designed to traverse the surface of Mars for three months, has stopped communicating with the Earth after 15 years of service, officials said on Wednesday, ending a mission that amazed and delighted about the AMERICAN space agency.

Engineers lost contact with the solar-powered vehicle, named Opportunity, on 10 June last year during a massive dust storm that surrounded Mars. Since then, NASA officials made numerous attempts to reach the six-wheeled rover, which is about the size of a golf cart.

Ability to use the equipment may have been compromised by the sandstorm that struck while the rover was on a site called Perseverance Valley, the officials said.

The vehicle was built to drive six-tenths of a mile (1 km) on the surface of the Red Planet, but closed for 28 miles (45 km) and longer at Mars than any other robot.

On Tuesday, engineers from a broadcast of a California-based antenna in a last-ditch attempt to revive the rover, but heard nothing back, said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

“It is, therefore, that I stand here with a feeling of deep appreciation and gratitude that I declare that I have the Opportunity mission is complete,” Zurbuchen said during an online video presentation at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “I stand here surrounded by the team, and I have to tell you, it is an emotional time.”

As the Possibility of craters on Mars, it gathered important evidence to show that the planet in the distant past, it was wet and warm enough to possibly sustain life, NASA said. Who discover white veins of the mineral gypsum, an indication of the water moving through underground fractures.

Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004, a few weeks after its rover twin, Spirit, which ended its mission in 2010.

FILE PHOTO: A self-portrait of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, a combination of several frames taken by Opportunity’s panoramic camera (Pancam) during March 22 to March 24, 2014 the planet Mars is seen in this NASA/JPL-Caltech image released on 17 April 2014. Courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University/Arizona State University/handout via REUTERS

Another NASA rover, called Curiosity, which arrived on Mars in 2012, will continue his work on the Martian surface.

And NASA’s Insight spacecraft, the first robotic lander designed to study the interior of a distant world, landed safely on the surface of Mars in November with instruments to detect planetary seismic rumbling never measured anywhere but the Earth.

The insight and the next Mars rover mission, scheduled for 2020, are both seen as precursors to eventual human exploration of Mars, a goal that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has said could be reached as early as in the mid-2030s.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Will Dunham

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