Mars rover Curiosity stands down after new problem (Update)

Mar 18, 2013 by Alicia Chang
This artist's concept depicts the rover Curiosity, of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, as it uses its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument to investigate the composition of a rock surface. ChemCam fires laser pulses at a target and views the resulting spark with a telescope and spectrometers to identify chemical elements. The laser is actually in an invisible infrared wavelength, but is shown here as visible red light for purposes of illustration.

The Mars rover Curiosity is sidelined again, further delaying the restart of science experiments, after recovering from a computer problem.

The latest complication occurred over the weekend when the six-wheel rover entered safe mode after experiencing a software file error.

Curiosity remained in contact with ground controllers, but it can't zap rocks, snap pictures or roam around until the problem is fixed. Rover team members had expected to resume activities Monday, but they now have to wait a bit longer—perhaps until the end of the week.

"We would definitely like to get over this and get back to doing something," said project manager Richard Cook of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which operates the $2.5 billion mission.

Studies at the Gale Crater landing site have been on hold since the beginning of March after engineers discovered a problem with Curiosity's computer memory, possibly caused by space radiation. The latest snafu isn't as serious, but any unexpected problem throws off the schedule, Cook said.

It's the longest stretch of inactivity since Curiosity's daring touchdown near the Martian equator last year.

Just before halting its investigations, the nuclear-powered rover used the drill at the end of its 7-foot (2.1-meter)-long robotic arm to bore into a rock near where it landed and analyze the powder.

Last week, scientists announced the results from the first drilling: Curiosity had discovered an ancient Martian environment that could have been favorable for primitive microbial life. Despite the excitement over achieving one of the mission's main goals, it has yet to find complex organic molecules considered the chemical building blocks of life.

Once Curiosity returns to normal, it'll only have a few days to work before a planetary alignment limits radio communication between Earth and Mars during most of next month.

Explore further: New commercial rocket descent data may help NASA with future Mars landings

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QuixoteJ
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 18, 2013
I would like to suggest that the software patch they downloaded for the previous issue is the source of the current issue.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (1) Mar 18, 2013
I don't think they "patched" anything, but they are learning the alternate side to work (giving the B side the A side parameters) and that could be fraught with problems. Meanwhile they should have been able to restart A after the CR hit.
JustChris
5 / 5 (2) Mar 19, 2013
@QuixoteJ, is that just a random guess? Working the space industry, I can assure you everything is tested and retested several times before a deployment, especially something as important as a software or memory patch.
Anda
1 / 5 (2) Mar 19, 2013
"$2.5 billion mission" ... What a botched job ... Incredible.
Look and learn from the Voyagers, or the other Mars rovers.
QuixoteJ
1 / 5 (1) Mar 19, 2013
@QuixoteJ, is that just a random guess? Working the space industry, I can assure you everything is tested and retested several times before a deployment, especially something as important as a software or memory patch.
Yes, it's just a guess. But it is also the simplest explanation. Could be totally wrong, but I just have this bad feeling that they aren't thinking things through. I do hope I'm wrong. I really really like this program and was happy to see that kind of landing in my lifetime.