NASA’s Curiosity is a car-sized rover that was launched on Mars on November 26, 2011. For seven years, the rover has been studying the crater Gale on the red plane as part of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission. Recently, its system had a glitch which scared the NASA’s experts.
What happened with the Curiosity?
Luckily, the rover just froze up due to a system glitch as it lost its bearings for a short moment. However, Curiosity is now running just fine after shutting down as a precaution until deemed fit to move with appropriate coordination.
The Curiosity rover is similar to a human body, explains Dawn Sumner, a planetary geologist at the University of California, and a member of the Curiosity team. “Knowing where our bodies help us move through the world,” she said. “We know if we are standing or sitting if our arms are out or by our sides (or for some people, not there at all). This body awareness is essential for staying safe. Rovers also need to know where their bodies are relative to their surroundings.”
How does the Curiosity rover system work?
“Curiosity stores its body attitude in memory, things like the orientation of each joint. It also stores its knowledge of the environment, things like how steep the slope is, where the big rocks are, and where the bedrock sticks out in a dangerous way. Curiosity evaluates this information before any motor is activated to make sure the movement can be executed safely. When the answer is no – or even maybe not – Curiosity stops without turning the motor. This conservative approach helps keep Curiosity from hitting its arm on rocks, driving over something dangerous, or pointing an unprotected camera at the sun,” said Sumner.
Although the rover’s system glitched, it did not lose contact with NASA’s team of experts, and they were able to recalibrate the spacecraft’s bearings and put it back in the run.
“Curiosity stopped moving, freezing in place until its knowledge of its orientation can be recovered,” the planetary geologist continued. “Curiosity kept sending us information, so we know what happened and can develop a recovery plan. The engineers on the team built a plan to inform Curiosity of its attitude and to confirm what happened. We want Curiosity to recover its ability to make its safety checks, and we also want to know if there is anything we can do to prevent a similar problem in the future. This approach helps keep our rover safe.”
We are impressed by Curiosity rover’s system and the great job NASA did to put it back on the feet. Well done!