Mystery on Mars

That’s What The Red Planet Needs – More Mystery!

Mars RoverThe Spirit Rover has confounded NASA engineers this week with more than one semi-bizarre happenings.

Spirit failed to report in to engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., last weekend, prompting a series of diagnostic tests this week to hunt the glitch’s source. The aging Mars rover did not beam home a record of its weekend activities and, more puzzlingly, apparently failed to even record any of its actions on Sunday, mission managers said.

A week ago, the Rover apparently successful received commands to drive to its next destination, but by Monday it was clear that it hadn’t moved a bit. In also failed to record its mission command/responses in non-volatile (that is, permanent-until-erased) memory. Cyber-amnesia. When commanded to find the Sun, Spirit reported that it did, but that the Sun wasn’t where it thought it should be.

JPL has updated their original release with a correction: “CORRECTION: In paragraph 3–Early Tuesday, Spirit reported that it had followed the commands, and in fact had located the sun, but not in its expected location.”

By Tuesday, the non-volatile memory seemed to be working fine.  Go figure.

Both Spirit and Opportunity have been at work on Mars something like 20 times their “normal and expected” lifespans (pardon me if I suspect that Steve Squyres expected then to last a bit longer than 90 days).  Both rovers are getting old.  Fortunately Spirit is back under normal control and reporting back that it is in good health.  Perhaps it was a transitory phenomena, like a cosmic ray scoring a bulls-eye on a critical bit of memory at just the right moment – something unlikely to happen again.

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