Science

Nasa declares ‘spaceship EMERGENCY’ after losing contact with Mars Rover

Nasa declares ‘spaceship EMERGENCY’ after losing contact with Mars Rover

NASA's seemingly unstoppable Mars rover Opportunity has been knocked out by a huge dust storm that is enveloping the red planet and blotting out the sun.

An animation showing the dust storm, highlighted in an exaggerated red, expanding to cover most of Mars.

A massive dust storm raging across Mars has overcome NASA's aging Opportunity rover, putting the unmanned, solar-powered vehicle into sleep mode and raising concerns about its survival, the U.S. space agency said Wednesday.

NASA is now listening constantly for any communication from the rover, but that won't happen until the storm clears. "The good news there is the dust storm has warmed temperatures on Mars".

NASA's Curiosity rover is elsewhere on the planet, on the edge of the current dust storm, but it also doesn't need sunlight.

People working with the rover have also become attached to it over the years, so even if things are looking okay, it's still a scary prospect that this rover is alone and unable to phone home on Mars. Several days have passed and the storm still rages on.

Engineers at NASA have put the robot into minimal operations mode and are waiting to see if it will still function once the dust has settled.

Last night Nasa detailed how a real example of such a big natural event left their solar-powered rover Opportunity uncontactable and in danger. The rover's mission clock is programmed to wake the computer so it can check power levels. The storm has been growing since the end of May with unprecedented speed. Because of the storm, those panels aren't receiving enough sunlight to fully charge up the rover, meaning that it's now trying to save what little power it does have before getting in touch with Earth again.




NASA's Opportunity mission can rightly be called the rover that just wouldn't quit. But Opportunity has never faced anything as formidable as the current dust storm on Mars. Two days later, a final transmission came in from Opportunity showing the energy level had dropped to just 22 watt hours, which would be expected to trigger a low-power fault mode in which everything but the mission clock is turned off.

"As we work to pave the way for when human explorers arrive, it will be essential that we learn to monitor and hopefully predict these storms in order to help ensure the safety of the crew".

Launched from Cape Canaveral on July 7, 2003, Opportunity landed on the red planet five-and-a-half months later, on January 24, 2004, three weeks after a twin rover, Spirit, bounced to an airbag-cushioned landing on the other side of the planet. "This storm is threatening, and we don't know how long it will last, and we don't know what the environment will be like once it clears".

"It's like you have a loved one in a coma in the hospital".

It weathered another storm in 2007, but that one wasn't this intense.

"We've done an estimate that shows the rover should stay above its minimum allowable operating temperatures for the long term, so we should be able to ride out the storm".

Luckily, it's approaching summer on Mars now, so it shouldn't hit the lowest temperatures Opportunity was created to handle, which is minus 131 degrees Fahrenheit.