Curiosity Rover Glitch Leads to a Freeze-Up

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The Curiosity Rover Bugs Out and Needs an Attitude Adjustment

Okay. So it’s not really that type of attitude adjustment. Nevertheless, NASA’s Curiosity rover—the only working rover we have on Mars—seemed to have a crisis on the existential level. A glitch left the rover wondering where it was. Part of that information includes its body attitude and joint orientation. And unfortunately, without the proper attitude and orientation, the rover freezes up until that data can be recovered.

According to UC Davis planetary geologist Dawn Sumner, “Partway through its last set of activities, Curiosity lost its orientation.” In the mission update, Sumner continued, “Curiosity stopped moving, freezing in place until its knowledge of its orientation can be recovered.” 

How Curiosity Knows Its Place in the (Martian) World:

The rover’s memory stores the aforementioned attitude and joint orientation information in its memory. Among these data is information on the location of the Curiosity rover’s robotic arm, the direction in which its instruments are pointing, and information on the local topography. Of course, details like these help Curiosity determine its exact position on Mars and which directions in which it can safely move.

Getting the Curiosity Rover Back on Track

Despite the immobility, Curiosity kept up communications with the Earthbound control team. According to Sumner, “The engineers on the team built a plan to inform Curiosity of its attitude and to confirm what happened.”

Their plan worked. NASA atmospheric scientist Scott Guzewich wrote, “We learned this morning that plan was successful and Curiosity was ready for science once more,” in another mission update.

The Curiosity rover is a symbol of tenacity and success for NASA. The rover is currently the only one we have working on Mars, and it’s been through hell and back. Despite every setback, it keeps doing its thing, collecting data and sending it back. In fact, even though NASA’s going to send another rover to Mars this year, they plan to keep Curiosity going for as long as possible.

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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