NASA Curiosity Rover Update: After Spacecraft Stalled, It's Switching Computers

The Curiosity rover on Mars will have to switch to use its secondary computer NASA announced this week due to a technical issue that kept the rover from storing any science and data since the middle of September.

Luckily, NASA designed Curiosity to have two computers. Like most crafts that head out to space, Curiosity was made redundant just in case of an event that rendered one of the computers unusable.

An event like that did happen and the rover has been stalled in its mission for weeks now. But with the activation of the Side A computer, the rover might be able to get back to work. The Side A computer is the one the rover initially used when it first landed on Mars. The rover was able to continue sending limited data from the short-term memory it has on board which could relay to the orbiter.

The rover is otherwise in good condition, according to NASA. The issue with the long-term memory of the computer is also causing it to not be able to store information like an event log and a journal of actions. That journal of actions is what engineers on the ground would normally use to diagnose the problem with the computer.

The Side A computer that the rover moved to this week actually had issues during the same mission in 2013. When that happened the rover was not controllable and the battery ran down. When that happened the Side B computer was turned on and used instead. While using Side B, the issue with Side A was diagnosed and fixed so it's a viable device again, which is why it can be used now.

"We spent the last week checking out Side A and preparing it for the swap," Steve Lee, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory project manager said, according to NASA, "It's certainly possible to run the mission on the Side-A computer if we really need to. But our plan is to switch back to Side B as soon as we can fix the problem to utilize its larger memory size."

The rover launched in 2011 and made it to the surface about a year later in 2012. Its goal on Mars is to "Determine if Mars was ever able to support microbial life," according to NASA.

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A self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity rover taken on Sol 2082 June, 15. A Martian dust storm has reduced sunlight and visibility at the rover's location in Gale Crater. NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA Curiosity Rover Update: After Spacecraft Stalled, It's Switching Computers | Tech & Science