Mars rovers finish upgrades

NASA officials have successfully updated the operating software in their Mars rovers to enhance safety, productivity and durability.

Following the completion of the three-day software update on April 14, Spirit awakened from its dormancy to the song "Where is My Mind?" by the Pixies. Opportunity heralded the completion of its transplant with the Ramones' "Teenage Lobotomy."

The Spirit and Opportunity rovers will see three main changes, the agency said.

They'll be able to travel longer distances autonomously thanks to updated navigation software. Rather than getting stuck when they encounter an obstacle, the rovers will be able to turn in place in order to navigate a path around the hazard. The updates will also enhance memory capabilities. By compressing flash directories, Spirit increased its capacity from 2M of memory to 3.3M.

The second part of the flight software update acts as a safety net. Engineers have equipped the rovers to better recover from incidents such as the one that temporarily cut off communication with Spirit soon after it landed in January, when NASA engineers believe it ran out of random access memory.

The third major change protects Opportunity from losing battery power. In allowing the rover to go into a deep sleep mode, the software will disconnect the batteries from controlling the stuck heater switch on the rover's instrument deployment device, so the battery will not be drained. If such a capability becomes necessary for Spirit, NASA officials will load the software onto that rover as well, agency officials said.

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