No Commands To Mars Rovers, Orbiters Later This Month

Is there worms on Martian surface? NASA image reveals bizarre subsurface patterns on red planet

JPL University of Arizona

NASA has made a decision to stop sending commands to its three Mars orbiters and two Mars rovers Curiosity and Opportunity for a couple of weeks as the Sun will be nearly directly between Earth and Mars.

Since the beginning of time, it is believed that there comes a time, usually after approximately 26 months; when the mars and the sun appear to be in one imaginary line or behind one another.

Even though this time the Sun won't be blocking our view of Mars in full, the data would still have a rough time getting to the planet next door, because the corona - scorching ionised gasses emitted from the star's surface - is enough to scramble transmissions.

"Orbiters will be making their science observations and transmitting data", says Hoppy Price, chief engineer of the Mars Program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

And data is still going to be transmitted back to us so teams can check how all the Mars exploration gear is faring. "We will continue to receive telemetry, so we will have information every day about the status of the vehicles", says Chad Edwards, manager of the Mars Relay Network Office at JPL.

Viewers using proper eye protection to watch the total solar eclipse on August 21 will gain a visible lesson in why Mars does not need to be directly behind the Sun for communications between Earth and Mars to be degraded.

To prevent the possibility of the ionized gas near the sun corrupting a command radioed to a spacecraft at Mars, NASA avoids transmitting for a period including several days before and after Mars gets closest to passing behind the sun. That's the very reason why NASA imposes a moratorium on communications between Mars orbiters and rovers and the Earthbound teams that operate them.

Rovers Opportunity and Curiosity will remain stationary during this time although they will continue to conduct observations and collect data.

All of NASA's active Mars missions have experience from at least one previous solar conjunction. This will be the eighth solar conjunction period for the Mars Odyssey orbiter, the seventh for the Opportunity rover, the sixth for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the third for the Curiosity rover and the second for the MAVEN orbiter.

"All of these spacecraft are now veterans of conjunction, We know what to expect", Edwards stated further.

NASA's five current Mars missions, plus Mars missions scheduled for launches in 2018 and 2020, are part of ambitious robotic exploration to understand Mars, helping to lead the way for sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.

The Curiosity rover takes a selfie on Mars in 2015.

When that happens with Mars, NASA can't send commands to all the gear orbiting the neighbouring Red Planet.

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