Space

Life on Mars: Opportunity rover awakens, responds to signals

Mars

Mars, the fourth planet from the sun, named for the Roman god of war, has long been an object of curiosity. In 1877, astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli observed a network of straight lines which he deemed to be canals, provoking decades of speculation that Mars might be home to an alien civilization.H.G. Wells imagined it as a home to hostile alien life in his 1898 novel "The War of the Worlds." Edgar Rice Burroughs penned a series of novels featuring Earthling John Carter living on Mars, which the natives call Barsoom. Although Schiaparelli's 'canals' were later found to be an optical illusion, Mars became a fertile source for imaginative fiction and scientific study.

And, later, the destination for multiple NASA rovers.

NASA’s Opportunity rover has phoned home from the Martian surface after successfully receiving a new set of commands from programmers, signaling that the nine-year-old craft is back online after switching itself to standby mode on April 22.

Mission controllers learned about the self-imposed standby on April 27 after a month-long communications blackout between the Martian spacecraft and ground crews due to the sun’s position between Mars and Earth.

The standby occurred because Opportunity experienced issues during a routine camera check, but those issues have since been resolved and Opportunity is back online, according to NASA officials.

"The Opportunity rover is back under ground control, executing a sequence of commands sent by the rover team," NASA officials wrote in a mission update on May 2. "Opportunity is no longer in standby automode and has resumed normal operations."

Opportunity landed on Mars nine years ago with its sister rover, Spirit, to look for signs of water activity on the dry planet. Both far outlived their life expectancy of three months.

Spirit’s systems failed in 2010, while Opportunity has continued sending back useful information, including plenty of evidence of past water flow in its 22-mile journey on the Red Planet.

It is currently positioned along Mars’ Endeavour Crater, which scientists believe may have been capable of supporting life millennia ago.

NASA’s more famous robotic rover, Curiosity, emerged from the blackout unscathed and is currently exploring Yellowknife Bay on its way to a three-mile-high structure called Mount Sharp.

Two orbiters, Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, are also in good stead following the blackout.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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