Nasas golf-cart-sized Opportunity Rover feared dead as storm engulfed Mars

Katie Ramirez
February 1, 2019

Now, in what might be a last-ditch effort to continue the Opportunity mission, NASA is sending commands to the rover in the hopes that it'll snap out of its funk.

Humans have not heard from the Opportunity rover, the red planet's longest-living robot, since June 10, 2018, when its last communication to date was received by the USA space agency.

The commands could help reset the clock or tell the rover to switch to a backup radio.

The new commands, which will be beamed to the rover during the next several weeks, address low-likelihood events that could have occurred aboard Opportunity, preventing it from transmitting, NASA said.

"We're sorry, but we will not be posting updates to this blog during the government shutdown", officials at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory posted to the mission blog.

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The "sweep and beep" commands have been telling Opportunity to reply with a beep, rather than just waiting for it to wake and send a message.

It was initially hoped that the rover would recharge its batteries during a "dust-clearing season" that kicked off after the storm and is now coming to an end. Mars is now moving into southern winter, meaning that the low temperatures in the Perseverance Valley would inflict irreparable damages to NASA's Opportunity Rover's internal wires and computing systems, as well as to its solar-powered batteries. The thick clouds of dust blocked out the sunrays, leaving the rover on a limited energy reserve. If Opportunity does not respond, the project team would again consult with the Mars Program Office at JPL and NASA Headquarters to determine the path forward.

"We are doing everything in our power to communicate with Opportunity, but as time goes on, the probability of a successful contact with the rover continues to diminish". Spirit landed on Mars in 2004, and its mission ended in 2011.

Before contact was lost, the vehicle had operated for 5,111 sols, or Martian days, and traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) - the longest by an off-world wheeled vehicle.

A third possibility, NASA said, is that Opportunity's internal clock, which provides a time for the vehicle's computer, is offset, meaning it doesn't know what is the actual time of day. "However, this anniversary can not help but be a little bittersweet as at present we don't know the rover's status". It landed on the surface of Mars on January 24, 2004 to begin a 90-day mission to find convincing geological signs that water once flowed on the red planet.

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