NASA to speak today on the fate of Mars Opportunity Rover

A heavy spacecraft would need rockets for braking and steering but could also be flown to steer itself through lift

During 14 years of intrepid exploration across Mars it advanced human knowledge by confirming that water once flowed on the red planet - but NASA's Opportunity rover has analyzed its last soil sample.

But a giant dust storm previous year blocked sunlight from Mars, stopping Opportunity's solar-powered batteries from being able to recharge.

The storm may have scrambled the rover's internal clock, NASA explained on Wednesday, meaning that the rover would not know when to sleep, wake up, or receive commands.

Since the storm, Nasa has tried to contact the machine through recovery commands 1,000 times.

NASA launched the Opportunity rover as part of its Mars Exploration Rover program in 2004.

Both outlived and outperformed expectations, on opposite sides of Mars.

The six-wheeled vehicle was built to operate just three months. They rocketed from Cape Canaveral a month apart in 2003.

The program has had an extraordinary record of success: 28.1 miles (45.2 kilometers) traversed, more than the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 moon rover during the 1970s and more than the rover that USA astronauts took to the moon on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

The manager of the project, John Callas, described the decay of the machine as like "a loved one who's gone missing".

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"But each passing day that diminishes, and at some point you have to say enough and move on with your life."

"I declare the Opportunity mission as complete", Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate told a news conference at mission headquarters in Pasadena, California.

Deputy project scientist Abigail Fraeman was a 16-year-old high school student when Opportunity landed on Mars.

The experience inspired her to pursue a career at JPL; Fraeman is now a deputy project scientist on the Mars exploration rover project, and works with Opportunity nearly daily. It was supposed to last for 90 days.so here we are 15 years later.

"You could have lost a lot of money over the years betting against Opportunity", Squyres told the AP Tuesday.

Opportunity and its long-dead twin rover, Spirit, found evidence that ancient Mars had water flowing on its surface and might have been capable of sustaining microbial life. It's especially frustrating, according to Callas, not knowing precisely why Opportunity-or Spirit-failed.

Now it is up to Curiosity and the newly arrived InSight lander to carry on the legacy, Mr Callas said, along with spacecraft in orbit around Mars.

The scientist said the machine "has given us a larger world".

"Mars is now part of our neighbourhood".

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