Mars Missions Slow Down During Solar Conjunction

Thanks to the solar conjunction, the Mars rovers and reconnaissance orbiter will enjoy their own version of a spring break. The sun will block the line of sight between the two planets for most of April.

Because of the celestial alignment, mission engineers will have problems sending instructions and hearing responses from the rovers and orbiter. To prevent any potential communication issues, engineers have already set the rovers to do short task lists while they wait for the communications blackout to end.

Opportunity, Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and the ESA’s Mars Express have already been through a solar conjunction before. But it will be the first for the six-wheeled Curiosity, which dramatically touched down inside the Gale Crater last August.

Along with giving the rovers a short break, some of the mission’s team members will also get the opportunity to take a short break. A video by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California even suggested that some members could take to the beach in the coming weeks.

While the MRO went into a record-only mode on Thursday, the Odyssey will continue to send information home during the solar conjunction. The even happens about every 26 months. So far, Odyssey has weathered five conjunctions, while Opportunity has gone through four.