After the death of the NASA Opportunity rover was officially announced on February 13, many people have been left wondering whether it would be possible to mount some kind of rescue mission on Mars to revive the rover, which is believed to have become covered with a thick coat of red dust during last year’s intense dust storm, and whether Curiosity might be able to help with this endeavor.
As Live Science has reported, it’s notable that while Opportunity was not the first rover sent to Mars, it is one that has lasted longer than any other, working hard on the Red Planet for 14 years. With swift Martian winds occasionally shaking the dust from the rover’s solar panels and keeping it running, Opportunity allowed scientists to learn an incredible amount about Mars as it slowly meandered and explored over a range of 28 miles on the planet during its very long lifetime.
According to the Express, the final words that NASA’s Opportunity uttered were cries of distress.
“My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”
With the rover’s solar panels covered in a thick, choking dust, if this dust were somehow removed, there is a very good chance that Opportunity would be quickly up and running again. With Curiosity already on Mars, using this rover seems in theory as if it would be the best way to resurrect the rover. However, scientists have said that this would unfortunately be an impossibility and have listed the reasons why it simply wouldn’t be practical.
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) February 16, 2019
One of the biggest problems with this idea is the vast distance that separates Curiosity and Opportunity. By looking at NASA’s Mars map, it becomes quickly apparent that this distance is insurmountable, with the Opportunity rover sitting 5,200 miles away from Curiosity. While Curiosity is technically faster than Opportunity, it can really only travel so quickly.
Besides this problem, if scientists did decide to get Curiosity to traverse the vast distance across Mars to reach Opportunity, the rover would need a fair amount of assistance from scientists on Earth in order to reach its final destination.
Because of the delay in communicating with the rover, in theory even a move of just a few feet could take days to accomplish, making the 5,200 mile journey not only arduous, but pretty much impossible given these communication delays.
Curiosity is also programmed to explore Mars, not to repair rovers or other objects, and scientists would have a major challenge if they were to even attempt to reprogram the rover’s instruments.
Even if scientists were able to magically achieve faster communication with Curiosity to get it to move quicker and could also reprogram its onboard instruments, this is still no guarantee that the one and only issue with Opportunity is too much dust on its solar panels.
The final issue with getting Curiosity to travel to and possibly even repair NASA’s Opportunity rover is that winter is fast approaching on Mars, and any problems that Opportunity originally had will only grow steadily worse with the onslaught of cold air that will soon be arriving.
But all hope is not completely lost as one fine day if humans end up traveling to Mars and setting up a new colony on the red planet, there is always the distinct possibility that NASA’s Opportunity rover will be able to be retrieved and set in motion once again.