NASA's Curiosity rover snaps last selfie on Martian ridge

NASA Making Last Ditch Attempt to Wake Opportunity Rover on Mars

NASA JPL-Caltech

The twisting ridge on Mars has been the rover's home for more than a year, providing scientists with new samples - and new questions - to puzzle over. The past few months, however, have been concerning for the spacecraft as it hasn't communicated with NASA since falling asleep over six months ago.

The rover lost contact with Earth back in June in 2018 when a massive dust storm surrounded the planet completely. It hasn't woken up since. NASA engineers eventually invented a new way for the rover to use its drill without the stabilizing arm in place, allowing it to continue its mission. "These new command strategies are in addition to the "sweep and beep" commands we have been transmitting up to the rover since September". According to the space agency, the Mars environment looks dustier than usual because of a dust storm now happening at that particular location.

NASA hoped that once the skies have cleared, the rover will be able to get enough sunlight and recharge its batteries.

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At that time, NASA's Opportunity Rover was conducting scientific experiments on the western rim of Perseverance Valley. The troubles of the rover, which has long outlived its initial 3-month mission, are believed to have been caused by a huge sandstorm that battered the planet for almost two months during the summer.

A third possibility, NASA said, is that Opportunity's internal clock, which provides a time for the vehicle's computer, is offset, meaning it doesn't know what is the actual time of day.

"We have and will continue to use multiple techniques in our attempts to contact the Rover".

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NASA said time is of the essence for the rover team. Should the rover remain silent, the project engineers will move forward according to protocols dictated by the Mars Program Office at JPL and NASA Headquarters.

Opportunity and its twin craft, Spirit landed on Mars on January 24, 2004. It traveled 4.8 miles (7.7 kilometers) before becoming stuck in a sand trap in late 2009. Back then, NASA said that it would stop active attempts to reach out to the rover and would only listen to it.

There, NASA scientists hope to study what they believe are ancient lake beds that existed back when Mars had water on its surface. The low temperatures that are set to come are likely to cause permanent damage to the rover's systems. The U.S. space agency also has three orbiters circling the planet: Mars Odyssey since 2001, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter since 2006 and MAVEN since 2013.

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