High-Watt drama on low-Amp Mars

One of the great feats of modern moviemaking is how director Ron Howard makes an ammeter exciting as Earthbound astronaut Ken Mattingly tries to devise a way to fire up the cold-soaked command module in Apollo 13.

Another Amp-induced nailbiter is under way on Mars, it seems, as the plucky robot rovers Opportunity and Spirit are starved of solar power by huge dust storms. NASA is concerned Opportunity will not have enough energy to stay warm and survive the storms.

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Martian skies darken for rover Opportunity (NASA photos)It would be a sad end to a remarkable journey that began when the rovers landed on Mars in January 2004. Both were designed to last 90 days and travel 1km. Spirit has traveled more than 7km and is more than 1,170 days past its warranty. Opportunity has rolled almost 11.5km and exceeded its warranty by than 1,150 days (or sols, on Mars).

It is a stunning success for a much-criticised NASA, and if the Mars Rovers and the team behind them do not win a Collier Trophy - the USA’s highest award for achievement in aeronautics or astronautics - then something is wrong.

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