Recounting ASU's connection with NASA Mars rover Opportunity

PHOENIX (AP/FOX 10) -- It is, in a sense, the end of an era, as NASA's Opportunity, the Mars rover that was built to operate for just three months but kept going and going, rolling across the rocky red soil, was pronounced dead Wednesday, 15 years after it landed on the planet.

The six-wheeled vehicle that helped gather critical evidence that ancient Mars might have been hospitable to life was remarkably spry up until eight months ago, when it was finally doomed by a ferocious dust storm.

Arizona State University was a major player on this historic mission, and it's not just a major player on Mars, but in space exploration in general.

Dr. Steve Ruff, Associate Research Professor with ASU, has been involved with the NASA mission since its inception.

"I got to essentially look at the data coming down from Mars, from these instruments. These are mini-test instruments," said Dr. Ruff.

The Opportunity rover was the size of a golf cart, and it was solar powered. The mission expected to last three months, as it faced the obstacle of dust accumulation on the solar panels.

"What was not expected is that dust devils, just like we have here in Arizona, dust devils cleaned off the solar arrays many, many times, almost in a predictable way," said Dr. Ruff.

Ruff says ASU professors and researchers are tied to past, present and future explorations on Mars.

"The cameras on the 2020 rover are built and operated by a professor here at ASU, so that's a big deal," said Dr. Ruff.