Weather warnings are a reluctantly accepted feature of life, especially when they occur unexpectedly. Many people can relate to trying to travel and receiving an “inclement weather” warning with a heavy heart. NASA has now been forced to send a flight delay warning owing to inclement weather on another planet, in a world- and off-word-first. Not only for launching missions, but also to preserve its rovers and landers presently exploring Mars, NASA must keep a constant check on the weather.
NASA will not risk losing this precious asset because ingenuity has repeatedly proved that it is the little helicopter that could extend way beyond its 30-day mission. Due to a regional dust storm on Mars, Ingenuity’s 19th trip, scheduled for January 5, has been postponed and will now take place later, according to the agency.
Dust storms are common on Mars during the fall and winter months, but this one was unexpected given that the Northern Hemisphere is nearing the end of summer. As a result, I am a little earlier than normal. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter saw a regional dust storm spanning from the Southern to the Northern Hemisphere and reaching the Jezero crater, where the rovers Perseverance and Ingenuity are performing their scientific exploration.
The team chose to postpone the flight due to the uncertainty surrounding this anticipated weather change. In addition, that was a wise decision. The dust storm caused a dip in air density in the area, according to satellite observations and data from Perseverance’s Mars Environmental Dynamics Analyzer (MEDA). This would have been below the flight’s safety threshold.
It also resulted in an 18% reduction in sunlight absorbed by the vehicle’s solar array. Dust storms on Mars have been known to kill solar-powered missions (RIP Opportunity, forever in our hearts), so no one wanted to take any chances. Flight 19 has been rescheduled for Sunday, January 23, and we are confident that Ingenuity will deliver.
The Opportunity rover’s mission has ended, according to NASA. The rover had not heard from since June 10, 2018, when it went into slumber due to a huge dust storm that engulfed Mars. NASA has attempted to contact the rover several times in recent months, the most recent attempt being on February 12. “I was with the team when these directives were sent out into the great sky, and I found out this morning that we had not received a response, and our beloved Opportunity had gone silent.” During the news conference, NASA’s Associate Administrator, Thomas Zurbuchen, stated. “It is for this reason that I pronounce the Opportunity mission complete, standing here with heartfelt gratitude and respect.”