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NASA scientists are hopeful that the prolonged hibernation for the Opportunity rover has not led to a system malfunction or that the planet-encircling dust storm has not irreparably damaged the sophisticated craft.

NASA really hit it out of the park when they designed and built the Opportunity rover.

"Assuming that we hear back from Opportunity, we will begin the process of discerning its status and bringing it back online", he said. Using data from MRO's Mars Color Imager, engineers can estimate how clear the skies over the rover are. "However, in the unlikely chance that there is a large amount of dust sitting on the solar arrays that is blocking the sun's energy, we will continue passive listening efforts for several months".

As the storm intensified, dust filled the Martian atmosphere, growing so thick that Opportunity couldn't harvest enough sunlight to recharge its batteries.

To prepare, the Opportunity mission team has developed a two-step plan to provide the highest probability of successfully communicating with the rover and bringing it back online, the USA space agency said in a statement.

Former rover engineers like Maxwell have argued that the active listening phase should run through the end of the year, covering the portion of the Martian year where dust devils could sweep dust off the rover's solar panels, as has happened in the past.

"There are likely going to be three overlapping fault modes on the vehicle: low power fault, the uploss timer fault, because we've gone so long in communicating with the vehicle, and mission clock fault", said John Callas project manager of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover. Zurek said in the statement that there had been no signs of dust storms within 3,000 kilometers of Opportunity "for some time". Choose from among several lovely Mars photos, write a brief message and send it up to Opportunity to show your support. His career includes working for NASA, Astrogeology Headquarters of the United States Geological Survey, the Mars Spaceflight Facility located at Arizona State University and the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory located at the University of Arizona. Opportunity has shrugged off a lot of obstacles in its decade-plus visit to the red planet.

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The announcement, though, attracted criticism because it limited the active part of the recovery to 45 days.

The chances are small that dust accumulation would be the root cause of Opportunity's lack of communication.

Those now working on the Opportunity mission are also disappointed and surprised by the 45-day limit to listening efforts, according to project sources not authorized to speak on the record.

A dust devil could cruise by close enough to clear the dust off the solar panels. The rover fell asleep on June 10 and has yet to wake up and "phone home". The probe was created to travel just 1km, but in its many years of service it has managed to log more than 45km.

"In a situation like this you hope for the best but plan for all eventualities", he said.

However, "there is reason to be optimistic, " says NASA, as the storm appears to be weakening, meaning that sunlight may have time to peak through the dust and give the rover a much-needed boost. When can we expect to hear from it again?

Thankfully, toward the end of July, the massive Martian dust storm started to subside.