Mini-probes fade into the sunset beyond Mars

MarCO view of Mars
This image of Mars was captured by one of NASA’s MarCO satellites from a distance of about 4,700 miles, about 10 minutes after the descent of NASA’s Mars InSight lander on Nov. 26, 2018. The grid seen on the right edge of the image is the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna. (NASA / JPL-Caltech Photo)

Farewell, WALL-E and EVE: NASA says it’s lost contact with two briefcase-sized MarCO nanosatellites, more than two months after their history-making Mars flyby.

And yet another robotic explorer, NASA’s Opportunity rover, has been mute on Mars for eight months, heightening suspicions that its 15-year watch could be at an end.

There’s still hope for Oppy: Mission managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory say they haven’t been able to rouse the golf-cart-sized robot since a global dust storm wiped kept it from recharging its solar-powered battery system last June. But with Martian winter closing in, they’ve just begun a new set of wakeup strategies.

There’s less hope for the two MarCO satellites, whose nicknames come from a couple of robotic characters in the Disney/Pixar animated film “WALL-E.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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