NASA has changed its mind about how long it will continue to seek contact with an aging robotic vehicle that was blanketed in a dust storm on Mars back in June and has been stalled ever since.
Now, the space agency plans to keep trying, rather than abandon efforts some time this month, as officials had said in late August.
“After a review of the progress of the listening campaign, NASA will continue its current strategy for attempting to make contact with the Opportunity rover for the foreseeable future,” said a statement posted on NASA’s website late Monday.
“Winds could increase in the next few months at Opportunity’s location on Mars, resulting in dust being blown off the rover’s solar panels. The agency will reassess the situation in the January 2019 time frame.”
Engineers hope the solar-powered rover will someday get enough sunlight to automatically kickstart its own recovery procedures.
Its last contact with Earth was June 10.
Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, are a pair of unmanned robotic vehicles designed by NASA to move short distances on the Martian surface and transmit data about conditions there back to Earth.
They landed on Mars in 2003 on a mission meant to last 90 days and span 1,000 yards (meters).
Spirit lasted 20 times longer than that. It became stuck in soft soil in 2009, and its mission was formally declared over in 2011.
Opportunity is going on 60 times its planned mission life, has traveled 28 miles (45 kilometers) and found evidence of water on Mars and conditions that may have been suitable for sustaining microbial life.
Fans of the rover mounted a Twitter campaign under the hash tag #SaveOppy, calling for NASA to keep trying to reach it.
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