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Curiosity Mission Update

The last couple of days have seen a couple of new developments about everyone’s favourite SUV  sized science tank on Mars; here’s the amalgamated summary.


Last weekend saw Curiousity’s computers trip into its version of Safe Mode. A couple of weeks ago saw a computer glitch causing Curiosity to switch from its A computer to its secondary B computer. At the time of this trip last week, the Rover went straight into Safe Mode and didnt follow the option of switching to the restored A side computer, which is now taking the place as the backup computer should the B computer fail.

The safe-mode entry was triggered when a command file failed a size-check by the rover’s protective software. Engineers diagnosed a software bug that appended an unrelated file to the file being checked, causing the size mismatch.

Apparently the solution is extremely simple, according to NASA’s Richard Cook, JPLs project manager for Curiosity – its just a case of deleting the corrupted command file and carrying on as normal.

The solution put in place by NASA’s software engineers meant that Curiousity resumed operations from safe mode in the middle of last week and got back to exciting scientific discoveries yesterday, delivering a sample of material drilled from the interior of a martian rock into the Sample Analysis at Mars instrument – a combination suite of mass spectrometer, gas chromatograph and laser spectrometer.

Curiosity has seen a marked trend in the last couple of weeks that indicate the region it is currently in was long ago soaked in water, providing the right kind of conditions for microbial life. Multiple instruments on Curiousity have indicated that a lot of the rocks are made of minerals with large water contents in the form of hydrate minerals. Our own Justin Cowart covered the analysis of one of these significant target rocks, dubbed “TinTina”last week.

Unfortunately this current trend might be curtailed, or at least postponed – due to the orbits of Mars and the Earth, Mars will lie nearly beyond the Sun from April 4th to May 1st. Radio traffic is scheduled to cease between these dates to prevent signal interference from corrupting any commands sent to Curiosity causing another computer glitch like those seen earlier this month.

Image: Curiousity takes a photograph of itself using its mast camera soon after landing on Mars in 2012. Credit: JPL/NASA

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About The Author
My name's Chris Pounds. I started Astronomy Aggregator in 2012 as a hobby site for my interests in spaceflight and astronomy. I'm finishing up an MSc. in Aerospace Engineering. My undergraduate degree was in Mechanical Engineering with a final year dissertation focussed on performance characteristics of aerospike rocket nozzles.

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