HAL 9000? The Curiosity Rover Just Stopped Sending Data Back To NASA, But It's Still Fully Operational

Thursday, 20 September 2018 - 11:53AM
Technology
Mars
Robotics
Thursday, 20 September 2018 - 11:53AM
HAL 9000? The Curiosity Rover Just Stopped Sending Data Back To NASA, But It's Still Fully Operational
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NASA/JPL-Caltech
You've probably encountered error messages before: Error 404 (Page Not Found), Error 403 (Forbidden) or – if you're very lucky – Error 418 (I'm A Teapot). NASA engineers recently encountered something similar while operating the Curiosity rover. A mysterious glitch is preventing the robotic platform from sending its science data to Earth, although the little rover can still communicate with its handlers.

The problem was discovered on September 15th and – following the NASA trend of dealing with malfunctions by making heart-breaking emotional appeals to inanimate objects (such as "Opportunity, Wake Up!") – an official statement with the title "Tell Us More, We Want to Help!" was published yesterday. According to Ashwin Vasavada, the author of the piece, the rover is currently unable to send data stored in its memory, which includes most of the scientific and engineering information it's collecting. However, the rover is still able to transmit real-time data from the rest of its systems, allowing NASA engineers to start taking steps to fix the problem.



The first step is switching Curiosity from operating on its main computer to its backup, which may be able to diagnose what's going on. According to Vasavada, this backup computer was initially used by Curiosity as its main computer when it landed on Mars but encountered software and hardware issues that have since been resolved. In addition to switching computers, the team has turned off Curiosity's science tools.

Though the rover's taking a time-out to figure out what's wrong, the work doesn't stop: while waiting for Curiosity to get back up to full speed, the team will be looking through the data it's already collected from Vera Rubin Ridge. The team will also begin scoping out the next drill site for Curiosity, now that the jury-rigged drill is functioning again.
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