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One of the biggest Martian dust storms on record is clearing up after nearly three months, raising hope that NASA's stranded, solar-powered robotic vehicle, Opportunity, will soon come back to life.
The US space agency's 15-year-old rover was least heard from on June 10, when it went into "sleep" mode as dust blocked out the Sun and darkness enveloped the Red Planet.
NASA - Statement - Thursday - Situation - Rover
A NASA statement issued late Thursday called the situation "critical," but added that "the rover team is cautiously optimistic, knowing that Opportunity has overcome significant challenges during its 14-plus years on Mars."
If no successful contact can be made, NASA says it will give up active efforts in mid-October.
Days - Team - Sun-blocking - Dust - Cold
"If we do not hear back after 45 days, the team will be forced 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," said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
"At that point, our active phase of reaching out to Opportunity will be at an end."
Listening - Efforts - Months - Callas - Chance
However, "passive listening efforts will continue for several months," Callas said, because of the "unlikely chance that there is a large amount of dust sitting on the solar arrays that is blocking the Sun's energy."
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