CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida – NASA is eager to hear from its dust-protected Mars rover Opportunity how the planet's red sky is emerging.
Air traffic controllers have been alerted to a message from Opportunity since a cloud of dust storm enveloped Mars in June and contact was lost. The storm has finally subsided. This means that the sky is now clear enough that Opportunitys solar panels can receive sunlight and fire.
But NASA has warned this week that they'll never hear of Opportunity again. If there is not a word in the next few months, NASA says it will limit their efforts to listen. Even if a message comes through, this may be the rover that has been strongest since June 1
Even before the dust storm, the 15-year-old Rover showed signs of age. The front steering and the flash memory are recorded.
"We believe our stubborn rover pulls its feet out of the fire once again," Project Leader John Callas said in a statement from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Opportunity's twin brother Spirit got stuck in soft Mars dirt in 2009, and NASA finally relinquished it. However, both rovers were developed for just 90 days and exceeded expectations. They were launched separately in 2003 and landed on Mars in 2004.
NASA's younger Curiosity rover was unaffected by the dust storm; it is based on nuclear and solar energy.
Another NASA spacecraft is now on its way to Mars and is due to land in November. This research robot, called InSight, has solar cells.
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