One of the largest Mars dust clouds in the world is clearing up after almost three months and raises the hope that the NASA-stranded solar-powered robot vehicle Opportunity will soon come back to life.
The storm was first discovered on May 30 and the 15-year-old robber of the American spacecraft was last heard on June 10, when it went into sleep mode while dust blocked the sun and the darkness enveloped the Red Planet.
A NASA statement issued on Thursday called the situation "critical", but added that "the rover team is cautiously optimistic, knowing that Opportunity during its 14-plus years on Mars presents major challenges." has overcome & # 39 ;.
If successful contact can not be made, NASA says it will give up its active efforts in mid-October.
"If we do not hear anything back after 45 days, the team will be forced to conclude that the solar fuel and the Martian cold have conspired to cause a sort of breakdown of which the robber is unlikely to recover," John Callas said. , Opportunity Project Manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA.
"At that moment, our active phase of reaching Opportunity is coming to an end."
"However, passive listening efforts will last for several months," Callas said, because of the "unlikely chance that there is a large amount of dust on the solar panels that blocks the energy of the Sun."
Twin robbers on Mars
Opportunity and its twin-rover, Spirit, are a pair of unmanned robot vehicles designed by NASA to work around the surface of Mars and transfer data about the conditions back to Earth.
In 2003 they landed on Mars on a mission that lasts 90 days and covers 1000 meters.
Spirit lasted 20 times longer than that. In 2009, it was frozen in soft soil and its mission was formally declared in 2011.
The probability is 60 times greater than the planned lifetime of the mission, has traveled 45 kilometers and has found evidence for water on Mars and conditions that may have been suitable for supporting microbial life.
And while it's hobbled, the use of its front steering and 256-megabyte flash memory has been lost, not everyone is ready to give up so quickly.
The hashtags #SaveOppy and #WakeUpOppy have become popular on Twitter, with an appeal to keep trying to make contact with the rover led by a former flight director and a ground-based roverdriver for Opportunity, Mike Siebert.
For Siebert, 45 days is too short, since NASA has spent contact with Spirit for up to 15 months before giving up.
"100% Grade A B.S. the amount of time given to restore Opportunity is hopelessly inadequate," he tweeted at the end of Thursday.
"Whoever made this decision is a coward."
NASA is the only space agency that has successfully landed a robot car on Mars.
The larger, newer vehicle, Curiosity, was hit in 2012 and is largely unaffected by the dust because it works with a nuclear powered battery.
Martian dust storms are common and can be more easily beaten there than on earth because Mars has a thinner atmosphere.
They usually last between a few weeks and a few months.
"The dust haze produced by the global March dust storm of 2018 is one of the most comprehensive on the list, but all indications are that it is finally coming to an end," said Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project scientist Rich Zurek of NASA's JPL.