You’d think that a piece of technology sent to Mars would have flawless tools, software, and of course plenty of memory to capture and store everyone discovered. However, the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity seems to be suffering from flash memory problems that just aren’t being addressed. In the rover’s defense, it’s been scouring Mars for over ten years now, hanging on for several months past the initial three-month mission it was meant for in 2004. While some experts blame general wear and tear for the issues with memory (which are causing “amnesia”), others are saying it just didn’t have the best memory to begin with.
With the Mars Rover, two tiers of memory were used including non-volatile and volatile. While this type of memory is specific for space technology, it shares many similarities with flash vs. RAM (what we use here on earth). For more information on flash and RAM, check out Computer World’s explanation. With volatile memory, everything gets “forgotten” when the power is turned off, but non-volatile memory remember everything (or at least it’s supposed to).
Red Rover, Red Rover…
“Rovering” around the Red Planet has been quite the task, and astronauts were committed to making sure the data collected was safeguarded. This was done with non-volatile memory, so that when the rover had to reboot (each “night”), the information would be secured. However, there’s only so much non-volatile memory can handle, and it’ll eventually wear down.
According to NASA, they’re planning to simply let the rover “die” in space when the memory totally fails, but they’re not giving up hope quite yet. There have been many experts coming up with ways to keep the rover going, even with failing memory. The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory has found the issue in the last of seven non-volatile memory banks the rover’s been using. If they program the rover to not use that seventh memory bank, memory loss should be a thing of the past.
Houston, problem solved
John Callas, a NASA Program Manager, says updating that software will only take a couple of weeks and it shouldn’t take long to figure out if the move is successful. Extending the rover’s time on Mars is beneficial to everyone; just check out Space’s photos of some of the most stunning images captured by the rover in the past decade.
Currently, the rover is near Marathon Valley and it’s crawled over 26 miles since being deployed. As the world record holder of rovers, does it have what it takes for a few more months or years? All signs point to yes.