NASA scientists hopeful of fixing rover Opportunity’s amnesia in a week

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NASA is prepping a software patch to fix rover Opportunity’s memory issues and to get it to store all the captured data in non-volatile memory and though a specific timeline is missing, the patch could be sent across in a week.

On December 11, NASA reported that rover Opportunity, which has been working on Mars for 11 years now, has had memory issues with its on-board flash storage malfunctioning after scientists reformatted the robot’s flash memory. This issue prompted a “shift to a working mode that avoids use of the flash data-storage system”, NASA said at the time.

Though the storage issue doesn’t hamper the normal operations of Opportunity, it has to relay all the captured data back to Earth daily before it goes to sleep for the night. NASA doesn’t intend to continue having Opportunity working in this mode and so a patch to fix the issue is under development.

Speaking with Computer World, Ashwin Vasavada, the new project scientist for Mars Rover Curiosity, the distance between Earth and Mars isn’t the issue as far as the update goes, but the real issue is the update of a critical portion of the software on a system that NASA can’t gain physical access to.

“If it doesn’t boot right, it may never talk to you again. [Software upgrades] have to be done extremely carefully”, said Vasavada.

Another critical bit about this particular update is that it isn’t a routine update. The patch will be addressing issues with the robot’s flash memory – something that hasn’t been done before.

NASA hasn’t provided a timeline for the Opportunity flash memory patch, but scientists are hopeful that it could happen in one week.