Mars Exploration Rover Gets a Vacation

by / Tuesday, 25 January 2011 / Published in Blog - Space Log
view of Santa Maria crater

view of Santa Maria crater

From time to time, we all need to take a little break. After nearly 10 months of homework, pop quizzes and waking up early, summer vacation usually can’t come soon enough for students. Your parents probably get a day off from work every now and then too. Did you know that even Mars rovers need to take a break from time to time? Starting today, January 25, the rover Opportunity will take some time off, but it isn’t really a true R&R (that’s rest and relaxation in case you were wondering!). The difference from the rover’s break and your summer vacation is that while you might get to sleep late and play all day, the rover will still be working. The rover Opportunity landed on Mars exactly seven years ago today and has since then been working hard to send pictures and information about Mars back to Earth.

Instead of receiving commands from Earth during this time (the break lasts until February 11), the rover Opportunity will send information to the Odyssey orbiter, which will then relay it back to Earth. The reason this is happening is the occurence of a solar conjunction. This means that the planets’ orbits will cause Mars to be almost directly behind the sun, from the Earth’s point of view. Having the sun in between the Earth and Mars can disrupt the radio signals between the two planets and corrupted commands can possibly harm a spacecraft.

During its mini-vacation, Opportunity will explore Santa Maria crater and then make its way toward Endurance crater which is about 4 miles away. Over the seven years it has spent on Mars, rover Opportunity has traveled 16.6 miles. While 16.6 miles might not sound like a very great distance, it’s plenty for a rover! So between now and February 11th, think about the rover Opportunity while it gets a little break from its daily routine, but don’t worry…you still have summer vacation to look forward to!