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Mars Curiosity rover bounces back after 2 technical problems

March 19, 2013|By Amina Khan
  • NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has recovered from two back-to-back technical snafus, mission project manager Richard Cook at Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, and would be conducting more science starting Thursday.
NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has recovered from two back-to-back… (NASA )

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity is up and running after a pair of back-to-back computer scares, officials at Jet Propulsion Laboratory said, and should be back to its science tasks in the next two days.

The rover has emerged from a weekend of safe-mode after engineers on the mission discovered a relatively minor glitch in the rover’s software, according to Mars Science Laboratory project manager Richard Cook -- one essentially corrected by simply deleting a file.

"It cost us a couple days," Cook said in an interview. "But it turned out to be something we understood very easily so we were able to recover very quickly."

The rover would likely be back in business running science tasks by Thursday, he added.

The delay came just a week after Mars scientists announced the rover's drill had dug up evidence that the Red Planet would have been suitable for primitive life.

In fact, the software problem cropped up just as Curiosity was recovering from an unrelated hardware scare that forced the engineers to switch over to the rover’s backup computer system.

"We were right in the final stages of getting back to the science when we had that little glitch over the weekend," Cook said.

This more serious memory problem was likely caused by a recent solar storm, Cook said, in which charged particles may have damaged the rover’s hardware. Mission engineers tried to sort out the issue before deciding to switch from the main computers (the A side) to the backups (the B side).

Scientists are often loathe to make the switch, Cook explained, because the backup computers basically have to be "taught" all the rules that Curiosity’s main brain has learned through experience. And it’s a process that takes time.

Now on the B side, the rover is back on track. But the engineers are still planning to get to the bottom of the original hardware issue. 

"The one from three weeks ago – there’s still some questions about it more in the form of what was the thing that originally caused the memory corruption," Cook said. 

That’s a mystery that will have to wait to be solved until May – in about two weeks the sun is set to come between the Earth and Mars in what’s known as "solar conjunction," blocking a clear signal to the rover.

Follow me on Twitter @aminawrite.

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