Tech & Science

NASA Opportunity Dead? Public Call to Save Lost Mars Rover As Chances of Recovery Fade

Social media users have made a heartfelt plea for NASA’s Opportunity rover to be saved almost three months after it fell silent during a dust storm on Mars. Launching the hashtags #WakeUpOppy and #SaveOppy, fans of the 15-year-old rover have been sharing memories and calling for the space agency not to give up on it just yet.

Scientists lost contact with Opportunity on June 10 after its solar power supply was cut off by a huge dust storm that encircled the entire planet. Earlier this month, NASA announced the dust storm was decaying, raising hopes that the rover might be able to power back up and make contact with Earth. However, no messages have been received and hopes of recovery are starting to fade.

On August 23, a statement from the Mars Exploration team said the storm was not active in the region where Opportunity was located. “It is expected that Opportunity has experienced a low-power fault, and then perhaps, a mission clock fault,” the team said. “Subsequent to the last contact with the rover…the up-loss timer has expired, adding another fault condition.”

The team is currently listening out for messages from the rover and is sending a command three times per week in the hopes of hearing a beep in response.

In a subsequent update, NASA likened the situation to waiting for a patient to come out of a coma: “It takes time to fully recover," a statement said. "It may take several communication sessions before engineers have enough information to take action.”

Mars Rover Opportunity An artist's representation of Opportunity, which hasn't contacted Earth in two months. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Should Opportunity respond, the team will need to fully assess the state of the rover. “Once they've gathered all this data, the team would take a poll about whether they're ready to attempt a full recovery,” a blog post from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.

"Even if engineers hear back from Opportunity, there's a real possibility the rover won’t be the same. The rover's batteries could have discharged so much power—and stayed inactive so long—that their capacity is reduced. If those batteries can’t hold as much charge, it could affect the rover’s continued operations. It could also mean that energy-draining behavior, like running its heaters during winter, could cause the batteries to brown out.”

John Callas, Opportunity project manager, told Newsweek it has been nice to see the public enthusiasm for the rover and that the team is "cautiously optimistic" it will recover. "Opportunity has proven to be extremely resilient over the years, but this is the biggest Martian dust storm it has encountered in its 14-plus years of exploring the Red Planet," he said. 

"The mission team is currently planning for all possible mission outcomes and is formulating a near-term and long-term strategy and at what point to declare the rover’s mission complete."

In an interview with Space.com, Steve Squyres, principal investigator for the Mars Science Laboratory, said no one knows what will happen to Opportunity. "There's only one way to find out, and that's to listen. It's either going to be a miraculous recovery, or an honorable death.”

This story has been updated to include quotes from John Callas.

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