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Glitch forces rover Curiosity to switch to backup computer

ASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS

This self-portrait of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity combines dozens of images taken by the rover's Mars Hand Lens Imager on Feb. 3. The portrait was taken at the rock target "John Klein," where the rover collected the first ever bedrock sample of Mars using its drill on Feb. 8.

By Clara Moskowitz

A computer glitch on NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has forced the robot to switch to a backup computer while engineers try to fix the problem.

The issue cropped up Wednesday, when the spacecraft failed to send its recorded data back to Earth and did not switch into its daily sleep mode as planned. After looking into the issue, engineers decided to switch the Curiosity rover from its primary "A-side" computer to its "B-side" backup on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. EST, which put the rover into a minimal-activity state known as "safe mode."

"Don't flip out: I just flipped over to my B-side computer while the team looks into an A-side memory issue," NASA officials wrote on behalf of the rover via Curiosity's Twitter feed.

Curiosity's science work has been on hold since Wednesday, while the mission management team tries to resolve the issue. Officials say the rover is functioning fine on its backup computer, though, and should be switching from safe mode to operational status in the coming days. [Curiosity Rover's Latest Amazing Mars Photos]

"We switched computers to get to a standard state from which to begin restoring routine operations," Richard Cook, Curiosity project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.

The computer problem is thought to be related to a glitch in flash memory on the A-side computer, which may have had some corrupted memory files.

Once Curiosity is up and running again, the rover should have no problem using its B-side computer as its primary computer for a while, officials said. As standard protocol, Curiosity, like many spacecraft, has redundant main computer systems as a safety precaution for just this type of anomaly.

"While we are resuming operations on the B-side, we are also working to determine the best way to restore the A-side as a viable backup," said JPL engineer Magdy Bareh, leader of the mission's anomaly resolution team.

The $2.5 million rover, the centerpiece of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, launched in November 2011, and landed inside Mars' Gale Crater in August 2012. The rover is exploring Mars, searching for signs that the Red Planet may once have been habitable to microbial life. While originally slated for a two-year stint, the rover's mission has been extended indefinitely.

Recently, Curiosity has been analyzing rock samples collected using its onboard drill. It's the first time experiments have been conducted on powder from the interior of Martian rocks.

You can follow Space.com Assistant Managing Editor Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz. Follow Space.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+. This story was originally published at Space.com.

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