NASA Says $400 Million Mars Rover Could Be Lost Forever Amid Giant Sandstorm

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Things aren’t looking good for the $400 million Mars “Opportunity” Rover. A new blog post from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory reveals that they are still waiting for the device to phone home after it was engulfed in a sandstorm on the red planet. According to the post, the rover went dark on June 10 when the storm hit, the tumultuous weather conditions having blocked out the sun rays that power the machine.

In the event that the rover recovers, the bad news is that the damage may be too serious for it to keep on exploring Mars.

“Even if engineers hear back from Opportunity, there’s a real possibility the rover won’t be the same,” the post reads. “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.”

Despite the grim prognosis, all hope is not lost. NASA’s lab points out that the Opportunity’s batteries were healthy before the sandstorm, meaning that there is a chance Opportunity could weather a certain amount of new damage. Furthermore, these types of storms generate warm temperatures which could help to preserve the solar-powered device as it endures harsh planetary conditions. Sandstorms, according to the blog post by NASA, are a problem that these rovers have faced before with mixed results.

“Dust isn’t usually as much of a problem. Previous storms plastered dust on the camera lenses, but most of that was shed off over time. Any remaining dust can be calibrated out.”

All observers can do is wait for the storm to complete its natural life cycle, hoping that the Opportunity makes contact with Earth once more after the inclement conditions pass.

Space.com reports that NASA has created a musical playlist designed to trigger the rover out of its storm-induced hibernation. Some of the wake-up songs include “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” by Wham, Kansas’ “Dust In The Wind,” and “Here Comes The Sun” by the Beatles. According to Space, the morning playlist is as much for keeping up the morale of the team as it is for waking up the Opportunity.

“It could take weeks — hopefully not months,” said Michael Staab, an engineer at JPL who was part of the team who came up with the idea for the playlist. “I wish we had something to share; I wish we had good news. But we keep listening every day.”

The team has also set up an informal betting pool for their estimations on when the rover will reactivate and make contact with Earth ground control. Their latest guess is sometime in mid-September.

Those interested in listening to the songs that NASA has been playing to waking up the Mars Opportunity rover can find the playlist on Spotify.

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