NASA Has Lost Its $400 Million Mars Rover In a Dust Storm

Monday, 13 August 2018 - 10:25AM
Space
Mars
Monday, 13 August 2018 - 10:25AM
NASA Has Lost Its $400 Million Mars Rover In a Dust Storm
< >
NASA/JPL-Caltech
If you think losing a $20 bill to a washing machine is painful, try putting yourself in NASA's shoes. The space agency lost contact with the Opportunity rover on Mars around two months ago during a planet-wide dust storm. The storm is ending soon, but the odds of finding Opportunity are not looking good.

Universe Today reports that the storm that seems to have swallowed the rover started back in May and spread across Mars' Terra Arabia in a matter of weeks. It eventually shaded Perseverance Valley, where Opportunity was stationed, causing the machine to go into hibernation mode. The last time the Opportunity team made contact was on June 10. Since then, NASA has posted a series of updates to the official mission website. Their latest post confirms that there has been no change in the rover's status. "Opportunity has likely experienced a low-power fault and perhaps, a mission clock fault and now an up-loss fault," read the update for sols 5155 to 5161, July 25, 2018 - July 31, 2018.

Opening quote
The science team is continuing to listen every day for the rover either during the expected fault communication windows or listening over a broader range of times using the Deep Space Network Radio Science Receiver. For the near term, the project will continue to send a command three times a week to elicit a beep if the rover happens to be awake.
Closing quote


In previous status updates, the team expressed concerns about the rover's functionality after the storm. The hibernation mode should end when the skies clear, but any faults or damage could mean that the Opportunity never wakes itself up. "A clock fault will complicate the recovery, but not prevent it," NASA wrote in mid-June, adding that the batteries could be a problem. No sunlight means no battery charging. If too much dust from the storm covers the solar panels while the battery is fully discharged, then it may be lights out for NASA's longest-running rover.

Back in Pasadena at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the staff tells Space.com that they have been playing the song "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" by Wham! while they wait out the storm. "Morale has been a little shaky," said engineer Michael Staab. "This is the first time she [Opportunity] has stopped talking to us and not resumed communication when we expected...That's a long time to not hear from your rover, and we don't know what it's doing. We still have things to do; we still have work to get done. But it's definitely slowed down a bit." Space.com has compiled a Spotify playlist called Opportunity, Wake Up! with all the songs that the JPL team has played since June 10 and others that they have considered, but so far none of them have been the kiss that the sleeping bot needs to spring back to life.

If it does, we will surely share that good news here at Outer Places.

Science
NASA
Space
Mars
No