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Mars' Curiosity rover has 'a bit of amnesia' but getting better

March 07, 2013|By Amy Hubbard
  • The rover Curiosity suffered a computer glitch and then had to hunker down for a solar storm.
The rover Curiosity suffered a computer glitch and then had to hunker down… (AFP/Getty Images )

Curiosity, recently in hunker-down mode amid a solar storm lashing Mars, is suffering from amnesia. But it’s mild.

The rover is getting back in the swing of its mission after a significant computer glitch, which was followed by a solar flare that sent radiation barreling toward the Red Planet.

“We kept the rover asleep for the solar event,” scientist Ashwin Vasavada told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday, “but now we are resuming operations, which center around diagnosing the original glitch and preparing for science operations on the B-side computer.”

The B-side computer is the spare. And the “bit of amnesia,” as Vasavada put it, is because Computer B needs to be brought up to snuff following a loss of memory in Computer A.

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“We're … teaching the spare computer all the things the other computer knew,” said Vasavada, deputy project scientist for Curiosity. “It's not too different from when you buy a new laptop or phone, and have to reinstall your apps and get your desktop customized the way you like it.

“Once we get that done, and make sure all the instruments and tools function as expected on the spare computer, we'll be back in business.”

The glitch -- which was considered serious, Vasavada said, because scientists couldn't quickly determine its cause or the possible fallout -- occurred in late February. Some of the rover's computer memory had become corrupted, and normal operations stalled. Space radiation was floated as a possible cause.

But there haven't been a lot of stumbles on the groundbreaking Mars mission. Curiosity has successfully tested and used various instruments. It has rolled around, following the direction of its handlers back home. It came across an ancient riverbed, drilled into a rock and was in the process of analyzing that scoop. 

The glitch made Curiosity stumble, but NASA is confident all will be well.

"This is just the kind of situation where you're happy you have a spare computer," Vasvada said.

"Much of Curiosity's avionics, and even some of its cameras, are duplicated in order to keep the mission going when problems occur."

 -- Amy Hubbard

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