Walking such a jagged edge is a danger on its own. The risk of collapse would seem a fatal one for a vehicle with a life-span of a mere 90 days; especially when the wee mechabugger has already survived 10x that long in its explorations of the red planet.
As it turns out though, a less controllable, natural occurrence - one which has previously helped prolong the Mars Landers' mission - could well be the final Decider on this N.A.S.A mission's timetable. When the Martian winds rise, lifting dust to soar at sunlight blinding heights, the outer limits of Opportunity's ability to maintain its electrical functions may finally be reached.
Mars Rover Struggles to Weather Severe Dust Storm
By Marc Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 21, 2007; Page A02
The hardy Mars rover Opportunity is struggling to stay alive amid a severe and long-lasting Martian dust storm -- posing the greatest threat so far to the unexpectedly long-lived vehicle.
The series of dust storms has blocked 99 percent of the direct sunlight that the rover needs to generate power, and on Wednesday, the panels were generating only 148 watt hours -- barely enough to keep the vehicle functioning. Without power to warm its electronic instruments and computers, the rover would grind to a halt for good.
"We're rooting for our rovers to survive these storms, but they were never designed for conditions this intense," said Alan Stern, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
There's still a chance she'll make it through this storm, though the odds do finally seem against it. None the less, here's to a job well done, and hope for more to come.