Following several months’ worth of failed attempts to reestablish a communication line with the Martian Opportunity rover, NASA officially terminated the near-15-year mission less than two weeks ago; but just when everyone thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did.
Image Credit: NASA
According to a statement released on Friday by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the space agency’s Curiosity rover haphazardly entered safe mode just two days after the Opportunity rover mission came to an end. As the timeless expression goes, ‘when it rains, it pours.’
Engineers responded to the unexplained safe mode event by resetting the Curiosity rover last Tuesday, and thus far, everything seems to be working as expected. That aside, NASA isn’t taking any chances. The space agency downloaded critical diagnostic data over the weekend to discern what might’ve caused the sudden glitch, but the investigation continues.
"We're still not sure of its exact cause and are gathering the relevant data for analysis," noted Steven Lee, the deputy project manager of the Curiosity rover mission. "The rover experienced a one-time computer reset but has operated normally ever since, which is a good sign. We're currently working to take a snapshot of its memory to better understand what might have happened."
The Curiosity rover has purportedly rebooted more than 30 times since the safe mode event without entering safe mode again, so engineers are currently dissecting the rover’s onboard memory to delve deeper into the investigation. Curiosity’s scientific operations have halted until NASA gets the bottom of things.
"In the short term, we are limiting commands to the vehicle to minimize changes to its memory," Lee added. "We don't want to destroy any evidence of what might have caused the computer reset. As a result, we expect science operations will be suspended for a short period of time."
It was only recently that the Curiosity rover arrived at a clay-covered region of Mount Sharp called Glen Torridon, and NASA has reason to believe that it might hold clues about the red planet’s habitability, among other things.
Unfortunately, NASA hasn’t provided an ETA for when the Curiosity rover will be roadworthy again (we know, Mars doesn’t have roads… just go with it). For now, NASA says Curiosity mission team members will analyze existing images of Glen Torridon to learn more about the region in preparation for future drilling sites.
Assuming everything’s as kosher as NASA seems to think, Curiosity should be ready to explore Glen Torridon sooner rather than later. We'll have to wait and see what becomes of it.