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Old 02-03-2009, 05:20 PM   #1
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Default Mars rover recovers after bout of amnesia


On 25 January, Spirit did not perform the day's instructions, and failed to record its activities. Controllers are still not sure why, but the rover is operating again (Illustration: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The Mars rover Spirit is driving again this week after the ageing craft suffered a mysterious bout of forgetfulness.

Spirit's controllers are still not sure what happened to the rover on 25 January, when the craft did not perform the day's instructions, which included a short drive.

The rover also seemed to suffer amnesia, as it failed to record its activities in its "non-volatile memory", which is used to store data when the rover is powered down.


There is no explanation for the behaviour, but Spirit has since performed normally.

"At this time, we don't know whether the problem was a one-time event - whether it was induced by a cosmic ray - or whether it might be an indicator of ageing hardware," says project manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We're staying vigilant and keeping an eye out, but right now Spirit's back to where she was."
Getting its bearings

The team originally suspected the craft might not have moved because it was confused about its location, so on 27 January the team commanded the rover to orient itself by finding the Sun using just its panoramic camera.

Spirit pinpointed the Sun, but it was several degrees away from where the rover expected to find it. The team tracked down the source of the misalignment to a slight offset in the rover's accelerometers, which are supposed to align with Mars's gravity.

But the offset does not explain why the rover did not move. And it is not clear how long the rover has operated with the accelerometer glitch, since the last time Spirit performed the Sun-finding exercise "blind" - with just the camera to guide it and no assumptions about its orientation - was in 2004, Callas told New Scientist.
Out of hibernation

The rover, which celebrated its fifth anniversary on the Red Planet in January, is emerging from hibernation after spending its winter parked on the northern slope of a plateau called Home Plate in Mars' Gusev Crater.

Over the winter, the rover's condition was temporarily classified as 'serious but stable' after a dust storm caused the craft's power levels to drop to an all-time low.

But enough sunlight is now hitting the rover's solar panels to provide it with enough power for more than an hour of activity. On 31 January, the craft drove roughly 30 centimetres before its right-front wheel, which stopped turning in 2006, hit a partially buried rock. The team expects the rover will be able to circumvent the obstacle.

Full article here:
http://www.newscientist.com/article/...f-amnesia.html

More Mars pictures here:
http://www.newscientist.com/gallery/...ver-five-years
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Old 02-03-2009, 08:49 PM   #2
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Old 02-03-2009, 09:10 PM   #3
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