NASA Curiosity Mars Rover Survives Tough Week

Mars rover overcomes computer problems, but solar weather delays mission.

Patience Wait, Contributor

March 8, 2013

2 Min Read

NASA Mars Mission: No Little Green Men -- Yet

NASA Mars Mission: No Little Green Men -- Yet

NASA Mars Mission: No Little Green Men -- Yet (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

NASA's Curiosity rover encountered two challenging situations this past week that are familiar to those of us here on Earth: a computer glitch and threatening weather.

NASA's team took action on Tuesday when scientists noticed that a solar flare from the sun was headed in Mars' direction, according to the Associated Press. That prompted NASA to power down the rover as a precaution.

"Storm's a-comin'! There's a solar storm heading for Mars," Curiosity's handlers tweeted. "I'm going back to sleep to weather it out."

[ The ISS has also faced challenges recently. Read more at NASA Missions Face Triple Whammy Of Glitches. ]

It was a false alarm. "That all you got Sun? The solar storm was less energetic than predicted so no sleeping in tosol," NASA tweeted on Thursday. "Operations have resumed." ("Tosol" is a term coined by NASA meaning tomorrow on Mars.)

Five days before the solar flare, Curiosity had been switched from its primary "A side" computer to its redundant "B side" computer after the primary system showed symptoms of corrupted memory. Curiosity continued to use the backup system even after the rover was taken out of safe mode and resumed use of its high-gain antenna. "We are making good progress in the recovery," project manager Richard Cook, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a written release.

NASA said Curiosity has been switched from safe mode to active status, with resumption of full operations anticipated by next week.

The cause of the A-side memory problems still hasn't been determined. NASA was evaluating the feasibility of recovering the A-side computer for use as a backup. The agency also planned to take the B-side computer through a series of steps to "inform" it about the state of the rover, including the position of its arm and mast.

Curiosity landed on Mars in August. The rover is slowly making it way across the Red Planet searching for signs of microbial life. Prior to its computer glitch, Curiosity had begun to drill the surface, collect rocks and analyze those samples. The space agency plans to hold a March 12 briefing to discuss the results of its first analysis of rock powder.

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Patience Wait


Washington-based Patience Wait contributes articles about government IT to InformationWeek.

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