NASA’s Opportunity rover went into sleep mode after a massive dust storm hit Mars, raising concerns about the survival of the unmanned, solar-powered vehicle, the US space agency said Wednesday.
According to NASA, the severe dust storm blanketed an area spanning 14 million square miles (35 million square kilometers) and blocked out the Sun over one quarter of the Red Planet.
Opportunity, located in Perseverance Valley on Mars, “has fallen asleep and is waiting out the storm,” said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“We are concerned but we are hopeful that the storm will clear and the rover will be able to communicate with us.”
First detected on May 30, the storm turned worse in recent days. The rover has shut down everything except its master clock. The last time it communicated with Earth was on June 10.
“In this point we are in a waiting mode. We are listening every day for possible signals from the rover,” he said, likening the atmosphere among colleagues to having a loved one lying in a coma.
“If it was your 97-year-old grandmother, you would be very concerned. And we are,” Callas said.