NASA Opportunity's favorite Mars Marshal has been silent for months after last summer's head of a huge dust storm on the Red Planet, and NASA engineers have tried the Rover to answer unreservedly. Now, NASA says it will send new commands to the resilient researcher in the hope of making contact, even if the possibility that she will respond is becoming more and more uncertain.
These new efforts to connect to the 15-year-old rover will continue for several weeks and will look at three options, according to an update from the space agency, namely that Opportunity encounters problems with its radio or internal clock. NASA has indicated that the circumstances that would lead to the specific problems that it views are "unlikely", but the Opportunity team has not yet lost hope.
"We have and will continue to use many techniques in our attempts to connect with the Mars," said John Callas, NASA's JPL engineer. "These new command strategies are in addition to the" cleaning and beep "commands that we pass to the rover since September."
Opportunity was silent in June after a massive Martian dust storm – the worst so far observed on the planet – and NASA engineers thought the solar engine had entered Hibernate mode to keep the power remaining. They had hoped that the strong winds during the next "dust-cleaning season" would help clear solar panels and enable power recovery, but no luck to date.
Now that this season is over, engineers are working against the clock. According to NASA, near-low temperatures can create new threats for Opportunity systems and batteries if the rover can not be loaded before.
Stephen Squires, Opportunity's chief research officer, told the New York Times that there is still hope. But he added, "That may be the end. Assuming this is the end, he feels good. I mean that.
This month, Opportunity celebrated its 15th anniversary of landing on the Red Planet as part of the NASA Mars Exploration Rover mission. Together with his Double-Row Spirit, who touched Mars weeks earlier in 2004, Opportunity took up what was expected to be a 90-day mission to search for signs of water on the planet. Both rovers far exceeded their expected lives. While the pursuit of the Spirit on Mars ended in 2011, Opportunity continues and continues to make invaluable scientific discoveries.
"Fifteen years on the surface of Mars is a testimony not only of a magnificent exploration machine but also of the dedicated and talented team behind it that allowed us to expand our space to discover the Red Planet," said Kallas in a statement earlier this week. "However, this anniversary can not help, but it is a bit bitter, as we do not know the status of the river at the moment. We do our best to communicate with Opportunity, but over time, the likelihood of successful contact with the Mars will continue to diminish. "
We rooting for you, Oppy. Please call home.[Jet Propulsion Laboratory, New York Times]