NASA's InSight lander to place heat flow probe on Mars

Sand dunes are seen on Mars in this image released by NASA

Sand dunes are seen on Mars in this image released by NASA

Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, "gave us a planet", Scott Maxwell, former rover planning lead for Spirit and Opportunity, told Astronomy.

Unable to recharge its batteries, Opportunity left hundreds of messages from Earth unanswered over the months, and Nasa said it made its last attempt at contact on Tuesday evening.

"Oppy", as the rover is affectionately known, has well outlasted her original 90-day mission.

Michael Watkins, Director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory commented on the mission's broader contribution to society: "Spirit and Opportunity energized the public about the spirit of Mars exploration".

As Opportunity explored craters on Mars, it gathered important evidence to demonstrate that the planet in the ancient past was wet and warm enough to possibly sustain life, NASA said. NASA wanted this rover and its identical twin named Spirit to last 90 days. "But we want to remember the 14-and-a-half years of phenomenal exploration". Originally expected to last only 90 days, the Opportunity mission explored the Red Planet for almost 15 years, making key discoveries about Martian geology. Instead, it traveled 28 miles.

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In that future age, will someone visit Opportunity's resting place?

"From the get-go, Opportunity delivered on our search for evidence regarding water", said Steve Squyres, principal investigator of the rovers' science payload at Cornell University.

Also, this highlight reel from Opportunity's career quietly appeared online Tuesday with a description that includes an terrible lot of talk about the rover in the past tense.

"Godspeed, Opportunity", tweeted Keri Bean, who had the "privilege" of sending the final message to the robot. But they shared a main mission goal: to hunt for signs of long-ago liquid-water activity, thereby helping scientists better understand Mars' evolution and past potential to host life. It will likely stay where it fell silent in Perseverance Valley.

It survived a bad dust storm in 2007 and is now being closely watched to see if it can survive a massive storm that has an estimated opacity level of 10.8, a sharp increase from the earlier storm's 5.5 tau.

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NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine noted that while Opportunity stopped communicating around the same time be began his service with the administration, he was still in awe at the achievements the rover and its team were able to achieve throughout their mission.

NASA's InSight lander is to place the heat flow probe on the Martian surface to take the temperature of the inside, according to the mission team. Together they landed on Mars the following year on a quest to determine the history of the water on the planet, NASA said on their website.

"We are doing everything in our power to communicate with Opportunity, but as time goes on, the probability of a successful contact with the rover continues to diminish". It's the accomplished exploration and phenomenal discoveries. Zurbuchen thanked the hundreds of scientists and engineers for working for nearly two decades on the mission.

Now it's up to Curiosity and the newly arrived InSight lander to carry on the legacy, he noted, along with spacecraft in orbit around Mars.

And one day, NASA hopes rover tracks will be alongside human footprints on the Red Planet.

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Now that Opportunity has died, she says, her days will be different.

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