Planetary movements have put NASA’s Mars missions on hold


WASHINGTON — Every two years, Mars slips behind the sun, putting three NASA probes orbiting the planet and two rovers on it mostly out of touch with the teams responsible for them on Earth – a phenomenon that will occur Saturday.

Practically no communications will take place between the probes and rovers and their controllers on Earth from Saturday until Aug. 1, as NASA said it would refrain, “out of caution,” from sending commands.

“We won’t talk to our Mars assets during that period because we expect significant degradation in the communication link, and we don’t want to take a chance that one of our spacecraft would act on a corrupted command,” said Chad Edwards, manager of the Mars Relay Network Office at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Data will continue to flow from Mars but will be retransmitted later as well, as some of it could be lost or corrupted, NASA said in a news release.

The space agency will have information every day Mars is behind the sun about the status of the vehicles, Edwards said.

Mars passes behind the sun, as seen from Earth, about every 26 months, an occurrence known as a “Mars solar conjunction.” It’s something all of NASA’s active Mars missions have experienced at least once, the agency said.

“All of these spacecraft are now veterans of conjunction,” Edwards said. “We know what to expect.”

The three orbiters are the Mars Odyssey, the Mars Reconnaissance and the MAVEN, and the two rovers exploring the surface of Mars are the Opportunity and the Curiosity.