First launched in 2003, NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover was originally intended to last just 3 months on the planet’s surface. It is a testament to the skill of the NASA engineers who made the vehicle that now, after spending 10 years in the harsh Martian environment, the rover can still move and transmit images. This being said, the rover in question is riddled with problems, many of them software bugs - and in order to try and fix these, NASA is turning to a decidedly low-tech solution.
Prompted by the rovers computer continuously resetting to due to corrupted memory cells, the scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) plan to restart the rover and completely reformat its memory. In a press statement, the space agency explains:
“The reformatting planned for early next month will be the first for Opportunity. Even after the rover has been active for more than a decade and is currently about 125 million miles (about 200 million kilometers) from JPL, the rover team can still perform this type of upkeep”
While this kind of memory formatting is a rather simple procedure, it does amount to a bit more of a technical solution that just ‘turning it on and off again’. In actual fact, memory reformatting is probably a procedure many of us who are old enough to remember floppy disks would have undertaken many times. The Opportunity rover however should be able to easily recover from this action, due to the fact that most of its critical systems are located at a different storage location, while others can be backed up by NASA back on Earth. Indeed, a similar re-format was undertaken successfully on Opportunity’s sister rover, Spirit, in 2009.
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