NASA's Opportunity rover is still trundling across the surface of Mars, more than 11 years after its 90-day mission began. But its software is getting bogged down, so NASA's doing a full system backup, memory wipe and reboot. It's just like your routine computer clean-up, just from the next planet over.
Both Spirit and Opportunity carry 256MB of flash memory, used to store data that's uploaded back to earth. After years and years of overwrites, it seems some of the flash memory cells are starting to fail -- causing Opportunity to reboot itself unprompted a dozen times this month. Each reboot takes about a day to complete, stealing time away from Opportunity's research tasks.
So NASA will back up all of Opportunity's current data to earth, then wipe Opportunity's flash memory to try and fix the problem. It's the same method they used when Opportunity's twin, Spirit, started developing amnesia in 2009.
"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," said John Callas, project manager for NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project. Still, something about remote-backup from over 200 million kilometres away sounds a bit more dicey than your routine laptop maintenance.