Curiosity rover forced into safe mode due to flash memory issue

PIA16239_High-Resolution_Self-Portrait_by_Curiosity_Rover_Arm_Camera-640x591The Mars rover Curiosity is switching over to a backup computer after a corrupted file caused the primary, “A-side” computer to glitch. On Wednesday, February 27, the rover failed to send its daily data dump back to Earth and switch into sleep mode. Mission Control made the decision to switch Curiosity over to its backup computer and suspend its scientific work for a few days.

“Don’t flip out: I just flipped over to my B-side computer while the team looks into an A-side memory issue,” NASA posted on the rover’s Twitter account.

Like most spacecraft, Curiosity has two computer systems on board. The A-side computer is used for daily operations and the B-side is used as a backup. Until the B-side computer has been updated with the data necessary to assume control of the rover, Curiosity will sit on the Martian surface in “safe mode.”

Configuring the B-side computer to take control of the rover may take a while, according to NASA. “We have probably several days, maybe a week of activities to get everything back and reconfigured,” Richard Cook, Curiosity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion laboratory told Space.com.

The cause of the corrupted file in the flash memory of the A-side computer is unknown, but it could be a stray cosmic ray. “The hardware that we fly is radiation tolerant, but there’s a limit to how hardened it can be,” Cook said. “You can still get high-energy particles that can cause the memory to be corrupted. It certainly is a possibility and that’s what we’re looking into.”

Once the B-side computer has assumed control of the rover, the team will attempt to get the A-side up and running again as a fully functional backup.

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