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Mars Rover Suffering Amnesia

NASA plans to hack into the software to save its memory

Nicole Billitz
Mars Rover Suffering Amnesia© 2017 Wikipedia

What was originally planned to be a 90 sol (or 90 Martian days) of activity for the little robotic rover has now turned into over a decade.

On July 7, 2003 the Mars rover Opportunity was launched from Earth and into outer space. It landed on the Red Planet on January 25, 2004. What was originally planned to be a 90 sol (or 90 Martian days) of activity for the little robotic rover has now turned into over a decade. Opportunity was launched with its twin, Spirit, which had the same life cycle planned. In 2009, Spirit got stuck and ceased communication in 2010. Opportunity remains active today, and has covered over 25 miles on the Red Planet.

NASA has currently revealed that their favorite long lasting rover is suffering from some pretty serious memory issues, which has now resulted in the six-wheeled vehicle resetting itself repeatedly.

According to the BBC, the Opportunity team seems to agree that the issue comes from an age-related issue which is affecting the flash memory the robotic rover users.

NASA has currently revealed that their favorite long lasting rover is suffering from some pretty serious memory issues, which has now resulted in the six-wheeled vehicle resetting itself repeatedly.

NASA project manager John Callas outlines the issue with Opportunity, which he has explained has two kinds of memory, similar to a computer: The first is non-volatile memory, which keeps its data even when powered down, similar to a hard drive on a PC, and is ideal for long term storage. The second is volatile memory, which is similar to the PC’s random access memory (RAM), which is quick to access but requires the computer to be on so as to access it. When the machine is off, any data that had been stored within the volatile memory will be lost.

Apparently Opportunity is suffering from a non-volatile memory problem, which means that every time the rover attempts to save data to the flash drive, it fails, and so it then saves it to the volatile memory instead. However, when the rover powers down, the information is then consequently lost. This is why the Opportunity team is calling this “amnesia”.

Every time the rover attempts to save data to the flash drive, it fails, and so it then saves to the RAM instead. However, when the rover powers down, the information is then consequently lost. This is why the Opportunity team is calling this “amnesia”.

 

Explained by Mr. Callas to Discovery News, “the rover is trying to use the flash memory, but it wasn’t able to, so instead it uses the RAM… it stores telemetry data in that volatile memory, but when the rover goes to sleep and wakes up again, all [the data] is gone. So that’s why we call it amnesia - it forgets what it has done”.

NASA will attempt to solve the issue by hacking into the rover’s software and rewriting the code so that it ignores the faulty part of its flash memory, and writes permanently to the healthy hardware. The team will expect the project to take several weeks, but they are hopeful. However, all on the project acknowledge Opportunity’s exceptional life span, and know that the end looms near. However, in the more than ten years since it first landed, the robotic rover has sent back vital intelligence about Mars’ biological makeup, and has been hugely exceeded its goals.

 

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