Cosmic Rays Kill Curiosity!

Nasa’s Curiosity Mars rover isn’t really dead.  At least not yet.

Since last Wednesday, Curiosity has not transmitted data back to Earth.  Also, a planned switch into its daily sleep mode did not occur as planned.

Engineers have determined that there is a problem with the rover’s “A-side” computer memory.  This past Thursday, operators switched operation to the backup “B-side” computer which placed Curiosity into a low-power “safe mode” state.

Safe modes are designed to protect spacecraft when a malfunction happens to prevent damage, destruction or mayhem from occurring.  So currently, everything on Curiosity is shut down except the minimal systems to keep it “alive” and able to respond to commands from Earth.

Engineers are gradually bringing systems on-line one at a time using the B-side computer.  Full operations could be restored by this weekend.  Once full system capabilities are restored, a triage of Then the process of understanding more about what happened to the A-side computer begins.

A front-running theory of the malfunction is that the computer memory was corrupted when it was struck by a cosmic ray. Cosmic rays are very high-energy particles, mainly originating outside the Solar System.

Back in the mid-90s, IBM estimated that cosmic rays would cause one error per month for every 256MB of RAM in a computer on Earth.  Unfortunately, Mars doesn’t have the benefit of our wonderfully protective atmosphere and magnetic field, leaving poor Curiosity exposed to the universally problem maker – cosmic ray.  Curiosity’s computers are “hardened” to withstand radiation, but  cosmic rays can sometimes still get through.

– Ex astris, scientia –

I am and avid amateur astronomer and intellectual property attorney.  As a former Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy, I am a proud member of the Armed Service Committee of the Los Angeles County Bar Association working to aid all active duty and veterans in our communities.  Connect with me on Google +.  If you need help with any patent, trademark, or copyright issue, or know someone that can use my help, please contact me for a free 30 minute consultation by sending me an email or call TOLL FREE at 1-855-UR IDEAS (1-855-874-3327) and ask for Norman.



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