It’s make or break time for the longest-living rover on Mars.
NASA’s Opportunity rover has survived 15 years exploring the red planet thanks to solar power, but due to an extreme, planet-enveloping dust storm, the space agency hasn’t been able to communicate with it since June 10.
Now, however, the dust is clearing, and NASA is listening for the little rover to phone home once it powers up.
“The sun is breaking through the haze over Perseverance Valley, and soon there will be enough sunlight present that Opportunity should be able to recharge its batteries,” John Callas, Opportunity project manager, said in a statement.
Once the dust clears enough, “we will begin a period of actively attempting to communicate with the rover by sending it commands via the antennas of NASA’s Deep Space Network,” Callas said.
“Assuming that we hear back from Opportunity, we will begin the process of discerning its status and bringing it back online.”
That said, Opportunity is on a clock now.
Once the dust clears, the rover will have 45 days to get in touch with NASA before the space agency stops actively trying to ping the rover.
“At that point our active phase of reaching out to Opportunity will be at an end,” Callas said.
“However, in the unlikely chance that there is a large amount of dust sitting on the solar arrays that is blocking the sun’s energy, we will continue passive listening efforts for several months.”
For their part, space fans have been tweeting up a storm in the hopes that Opportunity — or Oppy as it’s affectionately known — will wake up soon.
The rover is much-loved by the space community, and with good reason.
Opportunity has re-shaped the way we understand the red planet thanks to its ability to roam the world, investigating interesting rocks and sending back everything it knows back to waiting scientists on Earth.
But for now, those same scientists will have to hold out hope and wait for Oppy to get in touch. We’ll all be waiting to see what happens next.
“We are pulling for our tenacious rover to pull her feet from the fire one more time,” Callas said.
“And if she does, we will be there to hear her.”