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Mars Rover Problems? NASA's Curiosity Rover Enters Safety Mode

8 July 2016, 5:08 am EDT By Alyssa Navarro Tech Times
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NASA's Curiosity rover went on a temporary stand down over the Fourth of July weekend. The space agency has yet to find out what prompted the Mars rover to enter safe mode.  ( NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS )

Over the Fourth of July weekend, NASA's Curiosity rover suddenly entered into safe mode and ceased all its activities.

According to NASA, the Curiosity rover experienced some kind of error on July 2 and went into a precautionary stand down to keep itself "healthy." Since then, scientists have been working to return the Mars rover to its full function.

On July 6, the team operating Curiosity announced that the rover is now back to its senses and is communicating with ground controllers. However, NASA still has to request more information from the rover to find out what exactly happened.

Scientists suspect there must have been a mismatch between the data processing software and the camera software on the main computer. They hope that diagnostic information from the vehicle will provide better insight on the problem.

The History Of The Curiosity Rover

The weekend's sudden precautionary stand down isn't a first for Curiosity. The vehicle has entered safe mode thrice before — all during 2013.

Fortunately, the rover successfully recovered from all instances and has provided crucial data about Mars.

Indeed, Curiosity has sent countless data from Mars back to Earth, including the detection of mysterious ripples on the red planet's sand dunes, as well as close-up images of the Martian soil and sand.

Curiosity landed on Mars in August 2012. In its first year on the Red Planet, Curiosity achieved its goal by determining that more than 3 billion years ago, Mars' Gale Crater had contained freshwater lakes and rivers with environmental conditions that were suited to support microbial life, if life existed on the planet.

In its continuing investigations, Curiosity is learning more about the ancient wet environments, as well as how and when they evolved into less habitable and drier conditions.

Two-Year Extension For Curiosity

Curiosity has been on Mars for two Martian years now, which is equivalent to four Earth years. The young rover still has a long life ahead. On July 2, NASA announced that Curiosity's mission on Mars will be extended for two Earth years. The extension will begin on Oct. 1 this year.

Additionally, other missions received extensions as well. NASA's Dawn spacecraft, which is currently on the orbit of dwarf planet Ceres, will remain there for an undisclosed time.

Furthermore, NASA's New Horizons mission will move onward to an object located deeper in the Kuiper Belt. New Horizon's unplanned engagement with the object called 2014 MU69 is expected to occur on Jan. 1, 2019.

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