On and around the Red Planet, NASA’s Mars robots are operating at full speed once more.
Between Nov. 10 and Nov. 25, when the Red Planet was visible from Earth on the other side of the sun, the agency did not issue any directives to its Mars explorers.
Communications between the two planets may be hampered by plasma released from the sun’s outer atmosphere during these alignments, known as Mars solar conjunctions. Therefore, at these intervals, which happen roughly every two years, NASA and other organizations that manage Red Planet robots temporarily halted transmitting commands out of concern that a tainted one would get through and cause issues.
Now that Mars has come out from behind the sun in early December, the robots are returning to their jobs.
Members of NASA’s Perseverance rover crew posted on X (formerly known as Twitter) on Monday, December 4, saying, “Now that conjunction is over, I’m excited to continue #SamplingMars!”
In February 2021, Perseverance touched down inside the Jezero Crater on the Red Planet. Since then, it has been searching for evidence of prehistoric life on Mars and gathering samples for eventual return to Earth, as the aforementioned post mentions.
Ingenuity, a 4-pound (1.8-kg) helicopter tasked with proving that aviation exploration is feasible on Mars, made the interplanetary trek with Perseverance. Over the course of five flights in the spring of 2021, Ingenuity accomplished that. After that, it continued to fly on an extended mission that saw it act as a scout for Perseverance.
When conjunction ended, ingenuity didn’t take long to resume its job.
“Achievement! Over the weekend, Ingenuity finished Flight 67, which involved a flight of 393 meters (1,289 feet) for more than two minutes. “On Monday, via X, officials from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in southern California, which oversees Ingenuity’s mission, wrote that the #MarsHelicopter repositioned itself to prepare for future flights.”
There are more NASA Mars craft in operation besides Ingenuity and Perseverance. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Odyssey, and MAVEN (short for “Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution”) are three NASA spacecraft that are examining Mars from orbit. The agency’s Curiosity rover has been exploring the Red Planet’s Gale Crater since August 2012.
There are other orbiters that are actively researching Mars as well: China’s Tianwen-1, the United Arab Emirates’ Hope mission, and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express and Trace Gas Orbiter.