No, the Last Words of NASA's Opportunity Rover Weren't 'My Battery Is Low and It's Getting Dark'

Last week, NASA announced that its long-lived Opportunity Mars Rover had finally died after nearly 15 years exploring the surface of the Red Planet.

In the subsequent flurry of news coverage, a handful of outlets reported that the rover's last message to mission control was, "My battery is low and it's getting dark," citing a viral Tweet from science reporter Jacob Margolis.

The words spread like wildfire across the internet, sparking numerous memes and YouTube videos. Some people made T-shirts with the slogan emblazoned across, while one man even got the phrase tattooed on his shoulder.

However, Margolis hadn't intended for his words to be taken literally and has now penned an article for the LAist attempting to clarify the situation.

"In the days following, the phrase separated from the context of the thread and made its way beyond Twitter," Margolis wrote. "People started talking about it as if they were actually the exact last words that the rover said. The NY Daily News reported it as fact."

"[NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory] contacted me to let me know that they were being inundated with questions about the final message. And while it seemed like most people understood the context within the tweet, many didn't."

Margolis then explained that he was simply providing a "poetic translation" of what two NASA scientists told him about Opportunity's actual final communication to mission control, which came in the form of data not words.

First, Deputy Project Scientist Abigail Fraeman told Margolis: "It basically said we had no power left, and that was the last time we heard from it."

Then, Opportunity project manager John Callas explained: "It also told us the skies were incredibly dark, to the point where no sunlight gets through. It's night time during the day."

Despite the fact that the rover's 'last words' were perhaps not quite as poetic as some had thought, its time on the Red Planet was hugely successful.

Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004 with a planned mission duration of just 90 Martian days (slightly more than 90 Earth days.) But the rover surpassed all expectation by lasting for nearly 15 years, providing fascinating insights into our planetary neighbor and travelling 28 miles over its rugged terrain in the process.

The rover's recent problems began in June 2018 after a vast dust storm struck Mars, blanketing the entire planet. This caused NASA to lose contact with it, sparking fears for Opportunity's survival due to the fact that the vehicle relied on solar power to charge itself.

On June 10, 2018, NASA received what turned out to be the rover's final communication. Since then, operators sent more than a thousand commands to restore contact before finally declaring that its mission had come to an end—it's final resting place, an area known as "Perseverance Valley."

"I cannot think of a more appropriate place for Opportunity to endure on the surface of Mars than one called Perseverance Valley," Michael Watkins, director of JPL, said in a statement. "The records, discoveries and sheer tenacity of this intrepid little rover is testament to the ingenuity, dedication, and perseverance of the people who built and guided her."

NASA, Mars, Opportunity rover
The dramatic image of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity’s shadow was taken on sol 180 (July 26, 2004), by the rover's front hazard-avoidance camera as the rover moved farther into Endurance Crater in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars. NASA/JPL-Caltech
No, the Last Words of NASA's Opportunity Rover Weren't 'My Battery Is Low and It's Getting Dark' | Tech & Science