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.


  • Congress
    U.S. Capitol (Photo by M DOGAN / Shutterstock)

    Funding bill clears Congress, heads for president's desk

    The $1.3 trillion spending package passed the House of Representatives on March 22 and the Senate in the early hours of March 23. President Trump is expected to sign the bill, securing government funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2018.

  • 2018 Fed 100

    The 2018 Federal 100

    This year's Fed 100 winners show just how much committed and talented individuals can accomplish in federal IT. Read their profiles to learn more!

  • Census
    How tech can save money for 2020 census

    Trump campaign taps census question as a fund-raising tool

    A fundraising email for the Trump-Pence reelection campaign is trying to get supporters behind a controversial change to the census -- asking respondents whether or not they are U.S. citizens.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.