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NASA refuses to give up on silent Opportunity rover

Published Oct 30th, 2018 6:04PM EDT
opportunity rover status

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NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover isn’t doing much of anything right now, and that’s how it’s been for a number of months now. The rover was swallowed up by the planet-wide dust storm that engulfed Mars way back in June, and it was forced to enter a standby mode after its solar power was cut off by the huge clouds of dust.

The rover might truly be lost forever, and NASA has already explained all the things that could go wrong while the rover sits silently on the Martian surface. From busted batteries to wonky clock glitches, it’s unclear if the rover will ever wake back up, but NASA’s latest blog update promises that it’s not giving up on the aging robot just yet.

The Opportunity team has been listening closely for signs that the rover is coming back online now that the skies above it have cleared. Thus far it’s been nothing but silence, but that could change in the near future, or at least that’s what NASA engineers are hoping for.

“After a review of the progress of the listening campaign, NASA will continue its current strategy for attempting to make contact with the Opportunity rover for the foreseeable future,” NASA says. “Winds could increase in the next few months at Opportunity’s location on Mars, resulting in dust being blown off the rover’s solar panels. The agency will reassess the situation in the January 2019 time frame.”

The worry here is that the rover isn’t waking back up because the robot’s solar panels are still caked in dust. If that’s the case, the upcoming windy season on Mars could solve the problem, but we won’t know for sure unless Opportunity actually manages to wake back up.

A secondary, but still very serious, concern is that the extended downtime has permanently damaged the robot’s batteries. Opportunity was originally only designed to last a few months, but has since put in nearly a decade and a half of work on the Red Planet. Its batteries are definitely feeling the strain of old age, and a long, cold pause might have been enough to essentially kill them.

For now, all we can do is wait and wonder whether Opportunity will ever be revived. Keep your fingers crossed.

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