Curiosity Rover Recovering From Computer Glitch

The Curiosity rover is now out of “safe mode” following a memory problem with its main computer, and the Mars Science Laboratory team expects the rover to resume full operations next week. Controllers switched the rover to a redundant onboard computer, the rover’s “B-side” computer, on Feb. 28 when the “A-side” computer that the rover had been using demonstrated symptoms of a corrupted memory location. The intentional computer swap put the rover, as anticipated, into minimal-activity safe mode.

“We are making good progress in the recovery,” said MSL Project Manager Richard Cook. “One path of progress is evaluating the A-side with intent to recover it as a backup. Also, we need to go through a series of steps with the B-side, such as informing the computer about the state of the rover — the position of the arm, the position of the mast, that kind of information.”

This is the first glitch of any kind the Curiosity rover has suffered since landing in August, 2012. NASA has indicated this is not a serious problem (as Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society put it “not life-threatening, just really inconvenient.) It will just take time to make sure the computer switch-over is done correctly.

NASA says the cause for the A-side’s memory symptoms observed last week remains to be determined, but the most likely cause was that the computer memory was corrupted by a cosmic ray hit. These are subatomic particles traveling through space at extraordinary speeds. The origin of cosmic rays was recently determined to be distant supernovae.

Meanwhile, the rover has not done any surface operations or uploaded any new images to Earth since Sol 200, so for those of you going through withdrawal from not seeing any new raw images from Curiosity, we’ll keep you posted of when the flow of images resumes.