Every rover on Mars is about to enter safe mode

The only two space agencies in the world to land and successfully deploy robotic spacecraft to Mars, NASA and the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA) have no choice but to put their vehicles on the Red Planet in “safe mode” and stop research.

The reason is indisputable: the sun is about to pass between Earth and Mars in an event called the “solar connection of Mars”, which prevents all direct communications until the two planets regain their line of sight, according to a recent NASA blog.

Although this will only last from October 2 to 16, it also raises concerns about maintaining communications with probes or even manned missions to the Red Planet, the outer planets and beyond.

The sun is on the way

If NASA engineers try to signal their rovers through the ionizing rays of the sun, communication could be disrupted or even damaged. Obviously, rovers like Stability require very demanding commands to perform actions, and any damaged signal can potentially cause them to take dangerous actions. As a result, NASA has chosen to refrain from sending anything to its rovers from October 2 to 16. For the same reasons, said CNSA Chinese state Global Times that its space probe Tianwen-1 and the rover Zhurong will enter safe mode, stopping all scientific work until the solar connection on Mars passes.

But the fact that NASA and CNSA will not be in contact for several weeks does not mean that the robotic probes of both agencies will not have enough homework during that time. “Although our missions to Mars will not be as active in the next few weeks, they will notify us of their health,” said Roy Gladon of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he works as a Martian relay network manager. the post in the agency. “Each mission is given some homework to do until they hear us again.”

For example, her curiosity Perseverance will not stop record of Martian time, but many onboard instruments will be turned off. And the landing InSight they will also continue to listen for earthquakes, while NASA’s orbital assets will transmit messages to Earth whenever possible. To be clear, this is not a case of a solar eruption or super-flame, devastating the planet’s surface and frying all the hardware and hypothetical life in or around the Red Planet. Simply put, the sun interferes, which means we can’t communicate clearly with anything on Mars for weeks. If NASA or CNSA try to send signals anyway, this could quickly end the mission.

Each four-year manned mission to Mars will have to be self-sufficient for weeks

If astronauts were already on the surface of Mars by the time this happened, they could receive detailed instructions from NASA on extremely delicate procedures, and wrong or damaged instructions could likely have fatal consequences. Even when routine instructions are heard clearly and clearly, defective equipment or hardware can create an emergency, as was the case when Apollo 13 had a “problem.” Solar connections on Mars happen every two years, which means every four-year mission (the maximum time that humans can remain exposed to radiation) will be at least one two-week period of almost no contact with Earth and must be 100% self-sufficient.

Of course, this can be circumvented by a relay satellite located between Earth and Mars, perhaps a quarter of the way back into Earth orbit (for example, how satellites can transmit messages around the spherical Earth, even though the planet blocks the line of sight). . But the truly terrifying scenario may be centuries ahead: One day we may settle in a world outside our solar system. If extraterrestrial world in another solar system moved behind its host star, we will have to wait for their planet to come out on the other side of its host star. But in fact, this whole problem is nothing compared to the huge distances between the stars. The nearest star, Alpha Centauri, is 4.5 light-years away. This means that any signal to the people of an interstellar mission will not hear a response until at least 9 years have passed. Fortunately, signals to Mars take minutes, not years. But sends signals into space may pose serious challenges to the future of space travel.

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