Curiosity isn’t NASA’s only rover currently on Mars: Opportunity has been on the red planet since 2004. But last year the rover dropped out of communications when an enormous dust storm wracked the planet, and it hasn’t been heard from since. Can NASA save it?
The Opportunity rover is solar-powered, and last summer’s Martian storm kicked up so much dust that the sun’s rays were blocked from reaching the planet’s surface and recharging the rover’s batteries. It hasn’t responded to contact from Earth, and over the last seven months has ignored over 600 calls, leading the NASA team to believe that it may no longer be able to continue its mission.
…a strategy called “sweep and beep”
Now NASA scientists are trying a last ditch attempt to contact the rover based on three unlikely but possible scenarios: that the rover’s primary X-band radio has failed, that both the primary and secondary X-band radios have failed, or that the rover’s internal clock has become offset. The team is commanding the rover to switch to its backup X-band radio and to reset its clock to counteract these possibilities.
“While we have not heard back from the rover and the probability that we ever will is decreasing each day, we plan to continue to pursue every logical solution that could put us back in touch,” John Callas, project manager for Opportunity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, said in a statement.
These strategies are becoming urgent due to the seasonal changes on Mars. The season of high winds that could clear the dust from Opportunity’s solar panels is coming to an end, and soon southern winter will arrive, which means very low temperatures that are likely to cause irreparable damage to the rover’s systems. NASA will try sending the new commands for several weeks, but if Opportunity doesn’t respond this time, then it’s likely that the mission will have to be abandoned … truly, a lost Opportunity.
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