NASA officials announced last Wednesday that their fleet of Mars spacecraft will be taking an enforced two-week vacation. From June 7 through June 21, an alignment of Earth, Mars and the sun will force NASA‘s fleet of Red Planet spacecraft to operate on their own.
From Earth’s perspective, the red planet will be behind the sun. This is called a Mars solar conjunction. Because of this, radio communications between Earth and Mars will be difficult and even possibly dangerous since garbled, unclear instructions could actually damage the missions and even the actual spacecraft.
NASA engineers, therefore, will not be sending any orders to the trio of active orbiters or to the pair of rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity, during the two week period. They will also be issuing fewer commands on the days prior to the solar conjunction.
IN an official statement NASA representatives noted: “Spacecraft will continue making some science observations during the conjunction period, though rovers will not do any driving or arm movements.”
Nagin Cox of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, who is leading conjunction planning for Curiosity, stated: “Our overall approach is based on what we did for the solar conjunction two years ago, which worked well,”, said in the same statement. “It is really helpful to have been through this before.”
Opportunity and Curiosity will still broadcast data to the orbiters during the two week period. Mars Odyssey and MRO will still send information to Earth during the conjunction period.
Additionally, they will store data for re-transmission following the two-week period. Maven (the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) will not send any data to Earth until June 22.
NASA representatives concluded that Curiosity will save its data as well, Opportunity, however, will have its data stored by the orbiters because of recent memory issues.
NASA Mars Spacecraft Going On Vacation