NASA’s multi-billion-dollar Curiosity Mars rover suffered a technical glitch that “froze” all operations of the rover on Mars. Curiosity is NASA’s only working rover on the Red Planet, at least until the Mars 2020 Rover reaches the planet on February 18, 2021.
The rover lost, what NASA calls, its “attitude.” The rover’s attitude comprises of its “body awareness” and its awareness of its surroundings. Curiosity has a constant check its bodily positioning, which includes the orientation of its wheels, its robotic arms, its masthead, camera, etc. It also has a constant check on its surroundings and what is around the rover. Through this constant attitude monitoring, the rover is able to make sure that it is always safe, and not in danger of damaging its instruments on any surroundings. It also can make sure that it isn’t going too fast, and uses this data to take safe routes that don’t damage the taxpayer-funded, multi-billion-dollar machine.
Unfortunately, a technical glitch made the rover forget its attitude, and therefore its bodily and positional orientation. NASA scientists had pre-planned for this type of issue and implemented a safety system. The rover froze all operations in the case of this scenario, in order to protect the rover from any unknown issues before it happens.
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Dawn Sumner is a Planetary Geologist at the University of California Davis and one of the people working on the Curiosity project. “When the answer is no – or even maybe not – Curiosity stops without turning the motor,” Sumner writes. “This conservative approach helps keep Curiosity from hitting its arm on rocks, driving over something dangerous, or pointing an unprotected camera at the sun.”
NASA worked on a plan to inform Curiosity of its attitude again so that it can continue operations normally. Sumner says, “The engineers on the team built a plan to inform Curiosity of its attitude and to confirm what happened. We want Curiosity to recover its ability to make its safety checks, and we also want to know if there is anything we can do to prevent a similar problem in the future.”
After Curiosity regained its attitude after intervention from NASA scientists, it was able to continue its exploring operations as normal. The hope is that the rover develops the ability to correct its own attitude in similar scenarios in the future, rather than requiring intervention from NASA. What do you think of the upcoming Mars 2020 Rover? Let us know in the comments!
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