NASA reported that Mars Opportunity rover has encountered some technical problems that make it difficult for the robotic explorer to save new data on its flash memory. Technicians were able to reprogram the machine to store further data on its RAM thus leading to memory loss when the rover enters hibernate mode.
NASA’s Opportunity rover was designed to explore Mars for only three months, but it managed to stay fully functional for nearly ten years. The recent memory related issues are due to the “aging” process, NASA experts say.
Opportunity mission’s engineers described the technical issues as “persistent computer resets and ‘amnesia’ events.” These resets occur when Opportunity tries to save data on one part of its flash memory, that seems to be partially damaged. NASA technicians ordered Opportunity to start saving data on the random-access memory (RAM) as a temporary solution.
John Callas, project manager for the Opportunity rover mission on Mars, said that the mission would continue despite flash memory problems by temporary storing new data in the volatile RAM. Mr. Callas also said that storing data on RAM was temporary since his team was working on finding a way to make the flash memory usable again.
Opportunity technicians believe that the faulty flash memory shows signs of aging. The situation is very similar to an old man that starts having memory lapses or even forgets things from one day to another.
So now we’re having these events we call ‘amnesia’, 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,”
Mr. Callas explained in a recent interview.
Mr. Callas compared the rover to an aging parent that otherwise is healthy and sometimes even go for a little jog or play tennis on a daily basis. But his children never know when he is about to fall. For instance, he could suffer a massive stroke right in the middle of the night.
So we’re always cautious that something could happen,”
Mr. Callas also said.
Beside memory lapses, the rover also rests itself and sometimes fails to communicate with the mission control team.
The good news is that Opportunity has seven memory banks. So, the team plans to trick the robotic into believing that it only has six memory banks and ignore the faulty part of its flash memory. Still, the team would need about two weeks to manage to “hack” the rover’s software and make it behave as planned. However, NASA believes that Opportunity won’t last long before it finally collapses.
Image Source: Daily Mail