Short Hiatus

Every Mars Rover Is About To Go Into Safe Mode

byDan Robitzski
Sep 29

That pesky Sun is getting in the way of NASA's research.

Laying Low

NASA and the China National Space Administration (CNSA), the only two space agencies with robotic rovers currently exploring and studying Mars, are both being forced to put their research on hold for a little while.

The problem? The Sun is literally getting in the way. A period called “Mars solar conjunction,” in which the Sun passes in between the two planets, is expected to begin next week on October 2, according to a NASA announcement. While it’s there, the space agencies decided that it would be safest to take a break and not beam any new commands to their various Mars rovers.

We Get Signal

NASA engineers are concerned that the Sun’s ionizing rays could interfere with any instructions that engineers send to their respective Mars rovers, potentially corrupting the signals and prompting unexpected, possibly dangerous behavior from the off-world robots. Therefore, NASA won’t send any new instructions to their rovers between October 2 and 16, according to the agency’s announcement.

Similarly, the CNSA told the Chinese state-run news outlet Global Times that its Tianwen-1 space probe and Zhurong rover will pause their work and enter safe mode during the transit.


Assigning Homework

But just because the rovers aren’t getting any new instructions doesn’t mean they’re stopping altogether.

“Though our Mars missions won’t be as active these next few weeks, they’ll still let us know their state of health,” the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Mars Relay Network manager, Roy Gladden, said in the NASA announcement. “Each mission has been given some homework to do until they hear from us again.”

For instance, the Perseverance and Curiosity rovers will continue to record the weather on Mars, though several of their instruments will be shut off. Meanwhile, the InSight lander will continue to detect marsquakes, and NASA’s Mars orbiters will continue to act as relay stations between Earth and the rovers whenever possible.

READ MORE: NASA’s Mars Fleet Lies Low As Sun Moves Between Earth and Red Planet [NASA]


More on Mars rovers: It Worked! NASA’s Mars Rover Definitely Scooped up Rock Samples This Time

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