NASA Scientists Fear That The Mars Opportunity Rover Died In Dust Storm, Making One Last-Ditch Try To Reach It

Scientists have not heard from the rover since it was engulfed in a dust storm in June.

The head of the Mars Opportunity rover program looks at a map
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Scientists have not heard from the rover since it was engulfed in a dust storm in June.

NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover may have been destroyed in a sandstorm that has left the robotic martial explorer lost to the scientists who have been tracking it, but they have one last idea they hope will reach it.

The giant rover has been traversing the surface of Mars for years, beaming back high-resolution pictures that have fueled a much deeper understanding of the Martian surface. But it has become lost since a massive dust storm swept through the area more than six months ago and made it impossible for the solar panels to generate power, and Fox News reported that scientists now fear it may be lost forever.

For months, NASA scientists have beamed messages in an attempt to make contact, but has resulted in close to 600 “missed calls” with no reply from the vehicle.

Even if the Martian rover was lost, scientists have already gotten more than a decade more of work out of the machine than they originally expected. The report noted that Opportunity and sister craft Spirit landed on Mars on January 24, 2004. NASA scientists originally thought that each of them would last a few months and explore a few hundred yards, but Opportunity has already logged 28 miles before being lost to scientists in June of last year.

Spirit already suffered a similar fate, with its transmissions ending in 2010 after being caught in what Fox News called a “Martian sand trap.”

Not all hope is lost for finding the Mars Opportunity rover, however. The lead scientist said there is still more work to be done in looking for the rover, but noted that it has done a great job and fulfilled its mission either way.

“I haven’t given up yet,” Cornell University professor Steven Squyres, the mission’s principal investigator, said in an interview with the New York Times. “This could be the end. Under the assumption that this is the end, it feels good. I mean that.”

As Digital Trends reported, NASA scientists still have a few more options to try contacting the Mars Opportunity rover, despite hundreds of missed attempts to connect so far. They are banking on the unlikely scenarios that its primary or secondary X-band radios (or both) have failed or that its internal clock became offset. The NASA team will attempt to switch to its backup X-band radio and to reset its clocks in what is described as a last-ditch chance to reach the rover.