NASA’s Curiosity Rover suffers temporary glitch on Mars freezing it in space

NASA’s Curiosity rover has been roaming about on Mars for nearly eight years now. However, a glitch recently left the billion-dollar machine frozen on the red planet earlier this week.

Mars Curiosity
NASA’s Curiosity rover has been exploring Mars since landing there in 2012. Photo: NASA

Rocky situation

CNN reports that on January 20, 2020, Curiosity has been performing safety checks before continuing on its journey around the surface of our neighboring planet.

However, when ground staff was trying to communicate with the rover, they noticed that it didn’t seem to know where it was. Ultimately, this meant that it stopped its mission.

Dawn Sumner, a planetary geologist at the University of California Davis wrote about what happened in Curiosity’s Mission Updates blog.

“Partway through its last set of activities, Curiosity lost its orientation,” Sumner shared, as reported by CNN.

“Some knowledge of its attitude was not quite right, so it couldn’t make the essential safety evaluation. Thus, Curiosity stopped moving, freezing in place until its knowledge of its orientation can be recovered.”

Restarting the mission

Altogether, just like humans, rovers need to understand where their bodies are in relation to what is around them. The awareness of Curiosity’s body is stored in the memory of it. Therefore, if it can’t access this information, then it won’t make any movement.

NASA Rover
There is a lot to discover from the landscape that the rover has been taking samples of and evaluating. Photo: NASA

Despite freezing, Curiosity still kept in communication with support on the ground. Therefore, staff was able to figure what was going on and help the valuable device get back on track.

Engineers devised a plan to help Curiosity to get moving again. According to Scott Guzewich at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Curiosity eventually resumed its scientific duties later this week.

Important tasks

Since the dawn of the year, the rover has been trekking across Mount Sharp’s Western Butte. This is in aid to find an understanding of how its steep landscape formed.

Even though this part of the land is too steep to climb, Curiosity was able to take samples of the rocks that dropped from the top of the butte to analyze.

Following this evaluation, it will study bedrock units, capture images of the Western Butte, and study atmospheric dust. Additionally, it will measure the amount of argon in the atmosphere of the region.

Curiosity Location
A glance at the rocky region that Curiosity has been most recently traveling across over the last few weeks. Photo: NASA

NASA has been busy at work this year, striving to progress on all fronts. It will be pleased with the progress that SpaceX made with this week’s successful testing of the Crew Dragon ejection process.

This means that the capsule is ready for manned testing by NASA staff this spring. Altogether, NASA is set to go through a strong period of breakthroughs in space exploration this decade.

What are your thoughts about this glitch that the rover faced? Let us know what you think of the situation in the comment section.

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