Curiosity Rover Back On Track After Safety Mode Glitch

A mosaic self-portrait of Curiosity taken on May 11, 2016, at the Okoruso site on lower Mount Sharp. NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

Earlier this month, NASA’s Curiosity rover had a bit of a mishap on Mars when, for some reason, it was forced into standby mode. Now, thankfully, things seem to be back to normal – and the mission can continue.

Curiosity put itself into safe mode on July 2, which meant that it stopped all activities aside from maintaining its health. The cause of the issue isn’t entirely clear yet, but scientists think it may have been an issue with regards to moving image data in a mode on the rover’s computer.

“Science activity planning for the rover is avoiding use of that mode, which involves writing images from some cameras’ memories into files on the rover’s main computer,” said NASA. “Alternate means are available for handling and transmitting all image data.”

Curiosity was brought out of safe mode on July 9, and is now back up and running. And that’s good timing because the rover has just been given a two-year extension that will see it operate until at least 2018.

At the moment, Curiosity is exploring lower Mount Sharp, the raised area at the center of Gale Crater, which we now know once had quite a lot of water. But there is a proposal being considered to possibly visit some tiny dribbles of water that still exist on the surface today, in the form of recurring slope lineae (RSL). It’s unknown if Curiosity will be allowed to explore these areas under planetary protection rules, though, due to a risk of contaminating them with Earth-based microbes.

This latest instance was the fourth time that Curiosity has entered safe mode since it landed in August 2012; the other three were all in 2013.

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