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NASA About to Pull Plug on Mars Rover After Being Silent For Eight Months

Rather than viewing the dust storm as bad luck, Callas considers it good luck that we skirted so many possible storms over the years. Global dust storms typically kick up every few years, and “we had gone a long time without one.”

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This illustration made available by NASA shows the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars. The exploratory vehicle landed on Jan. 24, 2004, and logged more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) before falling silent during a global dust storm in June 2018. VOA

NASA is trying one last time to contact its record-setting Mars rover Opportunity, before calling it quits.

The rover has been silent for eight months, victim of one of the most intense dust storms in decades. Thick dust darkened the sky last summer and, for months, blocked sunlight from the spacecraft’s solar panels.

NASA said Tuesday it will issue a final series of recovery commands, on top of more than 1,000 already sent. If there’s no response by Wednesday — which NASA suspects will be the case — Opportunity will be declared dead, 15 years after arriving at the red planet.

Team members are already looking back at Opportunity’s achievements, including confirmation water once flowed on Mars. Opportunity was, by far, the longest-lasting lander on Mars. Besides endurance, the six-wheeled rover set a roaming record of 28 miles (45 kilometers.)

FILE - This composite of March 2015 photos made available by NASA shows a shallow crater called Spirit of St. Louis, about 110 feet (34 meters) long and about 80 feet (24 meters) wide, with a floor slightly darker than surrounding terrain.
This composite of March 2015 photos made available by NASA shows a shallow crater called Spirit of St. Louis, about 110 feet (34 meters) long and about 80 feet (24 meters) wide, with a floor slightly darker than surrounding terrain. VOA

Its identical twin, Spirit, was pronounced dead in 2011, a year after it got stuck in sand and communication ceased.

Both outlived and outperformed expectations, on opposite sides of Mars. The golf cart-size rovers were designed to operate as geologists for just three months, after bouncing onto our planetary neighbor inside cushioning air bags in January 2004. They rocketed from Cape Canaveral a month apart in 2003.

It’s no easier saying goodbye now to Opportunity, than it was to Spirit, project manager John Callas told The Associated Press.

“It’s just like a loved one who’s gone missing, and you keep holding out hope that they will show up and that they’re healthy,” he said. “But each passing day that diminishes, and at some point you have to say ‘enough’ and move on with your life.”

Deputy project scientist Abigail Fraeman was a 16-year-old high school student when Opportunity landed on Mars; she was inside the control center as part of an outreach program. Inspired, Fraeman went on to become a planetary scientist, joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and ended up deputy project scientist for Opportunity.

“It gives you an idea just how long this mission has lasted,” she said. “Opportunity’s just been a workhorse … it’s really a testament, I think, to how well the mission was designed and how careful the team was in operating the vehicle.”

This Jan. 4, 2018 photo made available by NASA shows a view from the front Hazard Avoidance Camera of the Opportunity rover on the inboard slope of the western rim of Endeavour Crater on the planet Mars.
This Jan. 4, 2018 photo made available by NASA shows a view from the front Hazard Avoidance Camera of the Opportunity rover on the inboard slope of the western rim of Endeavour Crater on the planet Mars. VOA

Rather than viewing the dust storm as bad luck, Callas considers it good luck that we skirted so many possible storms over the years. Global dust storms typically kick up every few years, and “we had gone a long time without one.”

Unlike NASA’s nuclear-powered Curiosity rover still chugging along on Mars, Opportunity and Spirit were never designed to endure such severe weather.

Cornell University’s Steve Squyres, lead scientist for both Opportunity and Spirit, considers succumbing to a ferocious storm an “honorable way” for the mission to end.

“You could have lost a lot of money over the years betting against Opportunity,” Squyres told the AP Tuesday.

This image sent by NASA’s Opportunity rover on Jan. 7, 2015 shows a view from atop a Martian hill. Opportunity spent several days at the summit making pictures that engineers will stitch into a color panorama.
This image sent by NASA’s Opportunity rover on Jan. 7, 2015 shows a view from atop a Martian hill. Opportunity spent several days at the summit making pictures that engineers will stitch into a color panorama. VOA

The rovers’ greatest gift, according to Squyres, was providing a geologic record at two distinct places where water once flowed on Mars, and describing the conditions there that may have supported possible ancient life.

NASA last heard from Opportunity on June 10. Flight controllers tried to awaken the rover, devising and sending command after command, month after month. The Martian skies eventually cleared enough for sunlight to reach the rover’s solar panels, but there was still no response. Now it’s getting colder and darker at Mars, further dimming prospects.

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Engineers speculate the rover’s internal clock may have become scrambled during the prolonged outage, disrupting the rover’s sleep cycle and draining on-board batteries. It’s especially frustrating, according to Callas, not knowing precisely why Opportunity — or Spirit — failed.

Now it’s up to Curiosity and the newly arrived InSight lander to carry on the legacy, he noted, along with spacecraft in orbit around Mars.

As for Opportunity, “It has given us a larger world,” Callas said. “Mars is now part of our neighborhood.”(VOA)

Next Story

SpaceX Plans To Send NASA Astronauts To Space in Q2 This Year

As part of the test on Sunday, SpaceX configured Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape about 1.5 minutes after liftoff

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It took a lot of work between NASA and SpaceX to get to this point. Pixabay

After NASA and SpaceX successfully completed a launch escape demonstration of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, Elon Musk said that his aerospace company aims to send NASA astronauts to space between April and June this year.

This was the final major flight test of the spacecraft before it begins carrying astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme, the US space agency said in a statement on Sunday.

With this test now complete, the next big flight of the Crew Dragon will have people on board: NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.

“We’re highly confident that the hardware will be ready in Q1, most likely at the end of February but no later than March. And we think it appears probable that the first crewed launch would occur in the second quarter,” said Musk after the successful uncrewed test of its Crew Dragon capsule’s in-flight launch escape capabilities.

Musk said that if all goes well, the first crewed flight on the Crew Dragon could take place in the second quarter of this year.

“This critical flight test puts us on the cusp of returning the capability to launch astronauts in American spacecraft on American rockets from American soil,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “We are thrilled with the progress NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme is making and look forward to the next milestone for Crew Dragon.”

As part of the test on Sunday, SpaceX configured Crew Dragon to trigger a launch escape about 1.5 minutes after liftoff. All major functions were executed, including separation, engine firings, parachute deployment and landing. Crew Dragon splashed down at 10:38 am just off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean.

“As far as we can tell thus far, it’s a picture perfect mission. It went as well as one can possibly expect,” said Musk. “This is a reflection of the dedication and hard work of the SpaceX and NASA teams to achieve this goal. Obviously, I’m super fired up. This is great.”

NASA
After NASA and SpaceX successfully completed a launch escape demonstration of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket, Elon Musk said that his aerospace company aims to send NASA astronauts to space between April and June this year. Wikimedia Commons

Prior to the flight test, teams completed launch day procedures for the first crewed flight test, from suit-up to launch pad operations. The joint teams now will begin the full data reviews that need to be completed prior to NASA astronauts flying the system during SpaceX’s Demo-2 mission. “The past few days have been an incredible experience for us,” said astronaut Doug Hurley.

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“Today, we watched the demonstration of a system that we hope to never use, but can save lives if we ever do. It took a lot of work between NASA and SpaceX to get to this point, and we can’t wait to take a ride to the space station soon,” he said in the NASA statement. (IANS)