Reboots

NASA's Curiosity back to work after computer glitch

Mars Curiosity Rover

After a week of suspended operations due to a computer glitch, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is back to investigating the secrets of the Red Planet.

The software glitch, which occurred March 16, caused the rover to suspend examination of powdered-rock samples near the Gale Crater landing site and put itself in precautionary standby, or safe, mode until March 25.

NASA officials have announced that the rover is up and running again and the problems appear to be solved.

"We are back to full science operations," said Jim Erickson, Curiosity's deputy project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "It's a slow recovery process, but we're back doing science."

It was the second glitch in as many months, though scientists say the latest one won't happen again and is unrelated to a memory issue that corrupted the rover's A-side computer, one of two redundant computers, on Feb. 28. That incident forced scientists to transfer main operations to the rover's backup computer. NASA officials said the backup, or B-side, computer is operating normally, with the A-side now serving as a backup.

Each of the computers can operate the rover's five science cameras, and each of the Curiosity's 12 engineering cameras is linked to one computer or the other. Only pairs linked to the active computer can be used, officials said, but B-side engineering cameras are fully operational after not being used since the trip to Mars last August, which means the $2.5 billion rover can get resume its explorations.

With both glitches resolved, Curiosity has already radioed NASA scientists that bedrock in an area called Yellowknife Bay appears to contain all the necessary chemical ingredients microbial life would need to survive.

Curiosity will operate without direct communication from NASA from April 4 through May 1 due to Mars being directly behind the sun from Earth's perspective. Rather than risk the sun corrupting commands to the rover, Curiosity will operate under preprogrammed commands.

The communications blackout, which will also affect the Opportunity rover and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, will keep Curiosity from undertaking any major tasks such as drilling for more rock specimens. However, it has already made significant achievements. The rover's analysis of rock samples led scientists to publicly announce that Mars was habitable long ago.

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

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