Mars Rover Clears Mind From 125 Million Miles Away

NASA will soon wipe and reformat the flash memory of their Mars rover, Opportunity, from 125 million miles away. NASA tweeted:

Similar to a reformat and update of your cellphone’s operating system, NASA is hoping this update will help resolve a series of computational errors that have caused system resets, interrupting the Mars rover’s work.

The Mars rover’s update is a low-risk process. John Callas, project manager for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Project, explains that:

“Worn-out cells in the flash memory are the leading suspect in causing these resets […] The flash reformatting is a low-risk process, as critical sequences and flight software are stored elsewhere in other non-volatile memory on the rover[.]”

A similar long-distance update was done on another Mars rover, Sprint. The Verge reports:

“This won’t be the first Mars rover to undergo a reformat though: NASA’s Spirit rover, which landed on Mars just before Opportunity but is no longer operational, underwent a memory reformat back in 2009, five years after landing. Opportunity’s reformatting is planned for next month.”

According to NASA, Opportunity’s update will occur on the west rim of Endeavour Crater, before the Mars rover heads towards ‘Marathon Valley’ to study clay-rich soil that could contain water.

The Earth-to-Mars update is long over due; the rover is now over 10 years old and with an impressive track record. Having travelled 40.69 km, the rover holds the record for the longest off-Earth drive, a title previously held by a USSR rover, Lunokhod 2 (To E.T. enthusiasts: Inquisitr realizes this is the longest off-Earth rover trip by an Earthling vessel).

The Mars rover projects are expensive, costing on the order of $13 million annually. The rover projects recently received an additional 2 years of funding from the White House.

According to Nature News Blog, maintained by the leading science journal Nature, the Mars funding environment is difficult. Yet three Mars rover missions are in the pipeline:

“The three remaining missions under scrutiny are the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which costs around $30 million annually and plays a crucial communications relay role at Mars; the 13-year-old Mars Odyssey orbiter, at $12 million annually; and a $3 million contribution for an instrument aboard the European Space Agency’s Mars Express spacecraft, launched in 2003.”

Rove to curious photos returned by another Mars rover, Curiosity, including a thigh bone, an iguana, and weird faces.