For over two months, there has been no sign of NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover. The rover hasn’t shown any sign of life since June 10. That was the day the rover disappeared into a massive Martian dust storm
The rover, worth roughly $400 million, has been roaming Mars for over 5,000 days. Since leaving Earth on July 7, 2003, it has made several groundbreaking discoveries, including detecting signs of water on the red planet. Its primary scientific goal is to find and characterize a wide range of rock and soil samples.
Opportunity went radio silent after a huge dust storm racked Mars in May. NASA reported that, as of June 10, the dust storm covered more than 15.8 million square miles, roughly the same amount as the area of North America and Russia combined. NASA believes that the storm blocked so much sunlight, the solar panels powering the rover have been unable to charge.
Engineers are becoming worried about the rover. While the dust has now dissipated enough for sunlight to reach the surface of the planet, Opportunity has still not awakened. Now, NASA is saying that the agency has no expectation to hear from the rover until atmospheric conditions significantly improved.
NASA continues to monitor the situation and says it will be attempting to contact Opportunity regularly until the rover responds. “For the near term, the project will continue to send a command three times a week to elicit a beep if the rover happens to be awake,” NASA said. There have been reports that NASA’s engineers have started a betting pool on when, or if, Opportunity will reawaken.
The rover has faced obstacles on the red planet before, but has always managed to come through relatively unscathed. Back in 2005, the rover got stuck in a thick pile of sand for about five weeks. Another dust storm in 2007 caused the power to go so low that the rover turned off for a month. This time, scientists are once again hoping that the rover will pull through.