Mars' Curiosity Rover Can't Send Critical Data Back To Earth, And No One Knows Why

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA's Opportunity rover hasn't had the best of it on Mars, thanks to a recent dust storm, but at least Curiosity is doing fine, right? Well... not so much. Right now, the rover is suffering from a problem that prevents it from sending data back to Earth — a problem that has engineers stumped.

It's rather perplexing, as Curiosity "remains in its normal mode and is otherwise healthy and responsive", according to Ashwin Vasavada of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NASA realised something was wrong last Saturday, and has been troubleshooting the problem since.

What's even more, uh, curious, is that the rover is happy to send back real-time info, described by Vasavada as "details about the rover's status". It's just the "science and engineering data stored in its memory" that's not coming through.

Unfortunately, even with the status data to go by, it's going to take time to figure out what's going on:

Engineers are expanding the details the rover transmits in these real-time data to better diagnose the issue. Because the amount of data coming down is limited, it might take some time for the engineering team to diagnose the problem ... On Monday and Tuesday, engineers discussed which real-time details would be the most useful to have.

There's also Curiosity's backup computer that, funnily enough, used to be the primary computer until it crapped out (its problems have "since been addressed"). Vasavada says that the backup can be used to "diagnose the primary computer".

By the sounds of things, NASA and JPL have the situation under control, with options available if the first lot of troubleshooting turns up nothing. Not that you can blame Curiosity for having a bad day, or even a bad week — it's been running around the Mars surface for over six years.

How Will NASA Know If Opportunity Is OK After The Martian Dust Storm?

Nearly all of Mars has been under the assault of a planet-wide dust storm since June. The nerve-wracking question: Is the Opportunity rover OK? The 15-year-old rover has been incommunicado since June 10, according to a NASA release.

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[NASA, via BGR]

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