Today’s Tidbits: August 30, 2018

Today’s Tidbits: August 30, 2018

Here are’s tidbits for August 30, 2018:  NASA holds out hope for Opportunity, but…; pressure leak on ISS.  Be sure to check our website for feature stories and follow us on Twitter (@SpcPlcyOnline) for more news and live tweeting of events.

NASA Holds Out Hope For Opportunity, But …

NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity (Oppy) was last heard from on June 10 after a global dust storm began to prevent sufficient sunlight from reaching its solar panels to recharge its battery.  NASA has been listening for a signal every since, but hope is fading.

Artist’s illustration of the Mars rover Opportunity. Credit: NASA

Today, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which operates the rover, said the dust storm finally is clearing, but it still has not heard from Oppy.  It now has a two-step plan for how to proceed.

As explained by program manager John Callas, when the atmosphere has cleared to a level of 1.5 tau, JPL will begin to actively try to communicate with Oppy, rather than just listening passively for it to contact Earth (as it is programmed to do).  It will send commands from the Deep Space Network and, assuming Oppy answers back, the process of ascertaining its status will begin.

They will try that for 45 days.  If they do not get a response, they will have to conclude that the “Sun-blocking dust and the Martian cold have conspired to cause some type of fault from which the rover will more than likely not recover.”

But, there is a small possibility that the problem is dust laying on the solar arrays, not just in the atmosphere. The second step of the plan therefore is to return to passive listening for several more months in the hope that a Martian “dust devil” could come by and clean the arrays.  It has happened before.

Callas cautioned that even if they hear from Oppy, it may not be able to return to full functionality. It has been operating on the Martian surface for over 14 years.  But the team is “cautiously optimistic.”  []

Pressure Leak on ISS

NASA and Roscosmos revealed that a very small pressure leak was detected on the International Space Station (ISS) last night.  It was so small they decided not to wake the crew.  Today, the crew located the leak in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft that is docked to the Russian side of the ISS.  Cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Sergey Prokopyev discovered a hole about 2 millimeters in diameter in the orbital compartment of the spacecraft and fixed it by using epoxy on a gauze wipe to fill the hole.  They are now waiting to see if it holds and assessing if anything else needs to be done.

Cabin pressure has been steady since the repair was made and both space agencies stress that the crew is in no danger.  The agencies have not said what might have caused the hole, although some media outlets are publishing speculation that the module may have been struck by space debris.  At that point that is speculation only.

Roscosmos has convened a commission to analyze the problem.

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