There is little hope for the rebellion of NASA's Opportunity Mars, which dropped to Mars 15 years ago this month. In the past six months, the rover was sitting silently, and NASA's JPL in Pasadena, California, exhausts tricks to revive it. Over the next few weeks, officials at the headquarters of the agency will decide whether to continue the search, mission scientists say.
In June 2018, the dust storm surrounding the planet removed the sun over the Opportunity for several months, curbing it from solar energy and exhausting the batteries. Since then, JPL has sent the 600 carts of the golf cart to revive it. Engineers hoped the seasonal winds to rise between November 2018 and late January will clear the solar panels from dust, which will allow them to recover. But that did not happen.
"The end of the windy season may mean an end to the rivers," says Stephen Squires, senior mission researcher at Cornell University. "But if this is the end, I can not imagine a better way to happen … 15 years on a 90-day mission and taken out of one of the biggest Martian dust storms for many years."
John Kallas, JPL mission project manager, says, "We have another week. We do not have time. "
The Martian winter, which ended the mission of the Double Rover Opportunity Spirit in 2011, is a few months. Sunlight is diminishing in the southern hemisphere and temperatures are decreasing. Efforts to revive the Rover have already lasted as long as the previous campaign to revive the Spirit. JPL tries to make a few more long shots, like commands that would tell Opportunity to switch to antennas if she barely recovers and tried to use a broken antenna. "Then, I do not know what to do if nothing else," says Kallas. Before the US government's five-week closure, the plan was to get NASA's headquarters to decide whether to continue its efforts after the windy season, he added. Currently a government resumption plan, such a decision may soon come from NASA Scientific Director Thomas Zurbutchen.
When his mission is over, Opportunity will leave a trail of superlatives. Although Mars was only guaranteed for 90 days, it ended at least 5,000. It traveled a 45km long road, which was often driven back by overheating of the steering. He explores the ever-growing craters of the impact, as their deposits reveal more and more Martian interiors. Even after that time, 1-megapixel cameras still worked beautifully, says Jim Bell, a planetary scientist at the Arizona State University in Tempe, who runs the Row Color Cameras team. Bell does not give up hope. Rover has landed on the edge of Endeavor's crater, he notes, and a gust of wind can still come and revive Opportunity. – No one has ever won a bet against him. I'm not going to start.
Since its landing at Meridiani Planum in 2004, Opportunity has been quickly demonstrating the sulfate-rich sandstones it was moving. The stones are probably formed as shallow mud in lagoon-like environments, says Raymond Arvidson, a planetary scientist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and Deputy Chief Research Officer of the Rover. "There was an ephemeral lake system, dry, damp. This is a huge discovery. "The treasure had to explore where Mars could be habitable in the deep past," Belle adds, and Opportunity was the first to provide evidence of this.
Subsequent craters surveyed by the Rover revealed that occupancy periods extend much longer in the past on Mars than ever before. He noticed the veins of the mineral gypsum near the craters that are formed by the evaporation of the water. And in 2013, it provided the first surface observations of 4 billion years of clay, from the time of Mars, older than the rocks studied by the Curiosity, when the water could really be plentiful. The find, 9 years in his mission, confirms observations from orbit expanding hunting for such clays, says Alberto Faren, a planetary scientist at Cornell. "Beautiful example of how to make a joint science."
Few expected when they registered for Spirit and Opportunity, which still work 15 years later. In the end, however, Bell adds: "Mars always wins."