NASA Curiosity rover on the Red Planet prowl since August 2012 and assessing the habitability of Mars.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS


Issues have cropped up with NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover – something akin to robotic Alzheimer’s disease.

“Over the past few days, engineers here at JPL have been working to address an issue on Curiosity that is preventing it from sending much of the science and engineering data stored in its memory,” reports Ashwin Vasavada, the Mars Science Laboratory project scientist at NASA/JPL in Pasadena, California.

Meanwhile, the rover remains in its normal mode and is otherwise healthy and responsive. Vasavada adds.

Diagnose the problem

The issue first appeared Saturday night while Curiosity was running through the weekend plan.

Besides transmitting data recorded in its memory, the rover can transmit “real-time” data when it links to a relay orbiter or Deep Space Network antenna. These real-time data are transmitting normally, and include various details about the rover’s status, Vasavada adds. “Engineers are expanding the details the rover transmits in these real-time data to better diagnose the issue. Because the amount of data coming down is limited, it might take some time for the engineering team to diagnose the problem.”

Curiosity Front Hazcam Left B image taken back on Sol 2172, September 15, 2018.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Backup computer

Vasavada adds that on Monday and Tuesday, engineers discussed which real-time details would be the most useful to have. “They also commanded the rover to turn off science instruments that were still on, since their data are not being stored. They’re also preparing to use the rover’s backup computer in case they need to use it to diagnose the primary computer. That backup computer was the rover’s primary one until Sol 200, when it experienced both a hardware failure and software issue that have since been addressed.”

Another drill attempt

While engineers work to understand the problem, Vasavada points out that Curiosity’s science team is using the time to pore over data gathered on Vera Rubin Ridge “and come up with the best location for another drilling attempt.”

“We’re looking at any clues that tell us the rocks are weaker and better for drilling. As the JPL-based project scientist, I really enjoy watching our scientists from all over the world take on these challenges,” Vasavada says. “And, I also get to witness the brainpower that JPL brings to bear when the rover has a technical issue. We’re rooting for the engineering team 100%!”

Meanwhile, just a touch of the dire: “This blog may be less frequent until science operations resume,” Vasavada concludes.

No new imagery has come in from Curiosity since Sol 2172. The rover is now in Sol 2176.

Meanwhile, not a peep from the only other active rover on Mars, NASA’s Opportunity robot.

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