Martian Ctl-Alt-Del: NASA Resets Opportunity Rover’s Memory, Stopping The Science Hiatus

In fantastic news for the long-running Opportunity mission on Mars, NASA says the rover’s much-needed memory reset worked out perfectly. The rover was unable to perform science or beam pictures back to Earth because portions of its flash memory — which can store information even when the rover is turned off — were beginning to wear out.

The reboot means the rover is soon going to be on the move again as it continues exploring the rim of Endeavour Crater, tacking on nearly a marathon of miles that Opportunity has racked up on Mars since 2004.

“The rover’s Flash file system was successfully reformatted on Sol 3773 (Sept. 4, 2014),” NASA wrote in an update on the Mars Exploration Rover website late last week. “The Flash space available is slightly smaller (<1%) than before the reformat, consistent with the reformatting process flagging some bad cells to avoid.”

Traverse Map for NASA’s Opportunity rover from 2004 to 2014 – A Decade on Mars. This map shows the entire path the rover has driven during a decade on Mars and over 3692 Sols, or Martian days, since landing inside Eagle Crater on Jan 24, 2004 to current location along Pillinger Point ridge south of Solander Point summit at the western rim of Endeavour Crater and heading to clay minerals at Cape Tribulation. Opportunity discovered clay minerals at Esperance – indicative of a habitable zone. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer

After performing related activities to the reformat on Sept. 6 and 7, controllers tried to take Opportunity out for a drive. They decided to stop shortly after beginning on Sept. 9 because the visual odometry Opportunity was using wasn’t enough for navigation. The controllers plan to try it again, using different landmarks next time. Current odometer on the rover: 25.28 miles (40.69 kilometers).

Sept. 9 marked the 3,778th Martian day or “sol” that Opportunity has been at work on Mars. The rover was originally designed to last three Earth months on the Martian surface, but is still performing drives and science in its 11th year. (The rover’s twin, Spirit, died in a sand trap after sending its last transmission March 22, 2010.)

Opportunity, however, is facing funding challenges on Earth as NASA and its political stakeholders weigh which of the agency’s long-term missions should continue.

Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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