SCIENCE

Curiosity Malfunction May Delay Mars Rover Operations, NASA Says

This image released by NASA shows the work site of the NASA’s rover Curiosity on Mars. Results are in from the first test of
This image released by NASA shows the work site of the NASA’s rover Curiosity on Mars. Results are in from the first test of Martian soil by the rover Curiosity: So far, there is no definitive evidence that the red planet has the chemical ingredients to support life.Scientists said Monday, Dec. 3, 2012 that a scoop of sandy soil analyzed by the rover's chemistry lab contained water and a mix of chemicals, but not the complex carbon-based compounds considered necessary for microbial life. (AP Photo/NASA)

NASA's Curiosity rover made it all the way to Mars without major setbacks, but now a computer glitch has stopped the robotic vehicle in its tracks.

The malfunction was detected Wednesday night, causing corrupted data in Curiosity's main computer, according to a written statement released by the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. Scientific investigations have been put on hold, and the rover is now operating in its minimally active "safe mode."

But don't worry: Curiosity will be up and running smoothly in "the next few days," according to the statement. The rover carries a backup computer -- known as "B-side" -- for just such an emergency, and engineers have switched over to it while they work to repair the main computer.

The JPL team noticed something was amiss when the rover failed to enter its power-saving "sleep mode," a configuration it enters nightly. After the discovery of the corrupted data, a team dedicated to "anomaly resolution" recommended the computer swap.

Why didn't the Curiosity team detect the bug when they were testing the $2.5 billion rover?

Maybe because this was no ordinary glitch -- in fact, it may have resulted from high-energy cosmic rays striking the computer, Richard Cook, Curiosity's project manager, told National Geographic.

Curiosity will have to wait until the computer glitch is fixed before it continues with its latest project -- analyzing the chemical composition of a sample of the Red Planet's dirt.

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