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Opportunity Is Dead: JPL Says RIP To The Mars Rover

An artist's portrayal of a NASA Mars Exploration Rover on the surface of Mars (Image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)
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Scientist Abigail Fraeman was 16 years old when she first witnessed a rover landing on Mars. It was 2004, and Fraeman was visiting NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena as part of an outreach event.

"I was actually in the room with the science team the night that Opportunity landed," says Fraeman. "I remember almost every detail that night because it was so extraordinary...Everyone was so happy."

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 almost daily. But all that came to an end on Wednesday, when NASA announced that Opportunity did not respond to their final attempts to contact it. Those attempts followed a major dust storm that left Mars' skies dark, and Opportunity unable to access solar energy.

"I am standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude, [as] I declare the Opportunity mission as complete, and with it the Mars Exploration rover's mission as complete," said Thomas Zurbuchen, an associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, during a livestream of the announcement. "This is an emotional time."

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During its 15 years on Mars, the rover was tasked with solving a mystery about the planet -- namely, whether it had liquid water, which could mean life.

"We found...evidence that yes, there was liquid water," says Fraeman. "So that really confirmed one of these big questions about Mars' past."

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

"It's sad," she says. "This has been a part of our lives for so long... But, you know, I have to sit back and reflect that this mission has been going on for 15 years. It was supposed to last for 90 here we are 15 years later. What an incredible ride we've been able to be on, and I feel like most of it was borrowed time."

With reporting by Jacob Margolis