NASA Will Hack Opportunity Mars Rover to Cure 'Amnesia'
Mars rover Opportunity has had a long and fruitful life, as it has been studying the Red Planet for over a decade now. After all those years, the rover is starting to show its age, and NASA has plans to hack its technology from Earth in order to fix its bouts of senility.
Opportunity, like any computer, has two types of memory- non-volatile or "flash" memory that stores information long-term like a hard drive, and volatile memory, which requires power to access and disappears when the technology is shut down. There is apparently an "age-related fault" in Opportunity's flash memory, causing it to store information in its volatile memory and promptly lose it once it shuts down.
"So now we're having these events we call 'amnesia,'" explained NASA project manager John Callas. "Which is the rover trying to use the flash memory, but it wasn't able to, so instead it uses the RAM... it stores telemetry data in that volatile memory, but when the rover goes to sleep and wakes up again, all [the data] is gone. So that's why we call it amnesia - it forgets what it has done."
These issues are causing all sorts of problems with Opportunity's mission, as it tends to unexpectedly reset itself and sometimes even stop communicating with Earth altogether. NASA plans to "hack" the software in order to induce a bypass of the fault within the flash memory and allow Opportunity to write its information in the functioning part of its hardware. This mission is expected to take a couple of weeks, although Callas admits that Opportunity might be reaching the end of its life.
"It's like you have an aging parent, that is otherwise in good health - maybe they go for a little jog every day, play tennis each day - but you never know, they could have a massive stroke right in the middle of the night," he said.