NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity which has now been exploring the red planet for nearly a decade is beginning to exhibit symptoms of mental fatigue, very much like an aging person. The fatigue, says NASA, becomes evident as the system gets rebooted and suffers data losses. These problems are not new or unique to the opportunity which is but a computer. After all, any computer can be expected to start showing up similar problems after ten years of usage.
However, the space agency is not worried and is confident of being able to solve the problems with an upcoming fix.
NASA said in a news release last month that problems with the rover’s ‘flash memory’, or memory that holds data even when the power is shut off during ‘sleep’ time of the rover had caused persistent computer resets.
“The team is developing a set of commands to restore usability of the flash memory through an overhaul more extensive than the reformatting that has been used so far”, the release said.
The release mentions that one of the seven banks of flash microchip circuits is not accepting data for storage, due to which their team will now direct the rover to avoid that whole bank. John Callas, NASA’s Mars rover project manager, told Discovery News in a conversation that the rover also bogs down in addition to the loss of information. He compared it to making an effort to drive on a family trip, where the car keeps breaking down every five minutes, while explaining how difficult it was to make developments with that type of a system. However, he was hopeful of dealing with the memory lapses with the help of a software adjustment since the problem had been pinpointed.
“So now we’re having these events we call ‘amnesia,’” Callas explained to Discovery News.. “Which is the rover 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.”
The Rover Opportunity has had some great moments on the red planet and sent back useful chunks of information already. It has already outlived its projected lifespan and if the proposed hack into the software could get the system working once again by storing all its data permanently, NASA couldn’t be happier.