TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) - Opportunity's mission was only supposed to last 90 days. But 15 years later, and after discovering water on the planet, Opportunity has stopped knocking.

On Tuesday evening, NASA scientists bid an emotional farewell, sending Billie Holiday's "I'll Be Seeing You" as an unreturned wake-up song.

[RELATED: NASA rover finally bites the dust on Mars after 15 years]

"Lots of memories shares, hugs and a few tears," said lead driver Heather Justice.

After a storm hit Mars last June, Opportunity never phoned home again.

"We don’t know the state that it's in. It's unlikely in these temperatures the hardware would be able to survive the harsh winter," Justice said.

That hardware includes the infrared camera that Arizona State University built.

"Every day would start by coming in, seeing what pictures would come down, seeing where the rover went that day, what rocks we want to analyze," said Jonathon Hill, who operated the camera for four years, taking pictures to see what each rock is made of.

Opportunity essentially crater-hopped, leading to an astronomical discovery.

"We kind of take it for granted now, knowing water used to be on the surface of Mars, but back when we sent the rovers in 2004, we really didn’t know for sure," Hill said, referring to Opportunity and it now-defunct twin Spirit.

And even though Opportunity's latest mission is embarking on eternal slumber, we're not done unlocking the secrets of our next-door neighbor. ASU's infrared camera is also on the Curiosity rover, currently exploring Mars, and will hitch a ride on a rover set to depart in 2020.

Award-winning journalist Lindsey Reiser is a regular contributor in the evenings on CBS 5 News at 10 p.m.
 
 


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