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Uh oh, there might be something wrong with NASA’s Curiosity rover now

Updated Sep 20th, 2018 11:16PM EDT
curiosity rover problem
Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS / Seán Doran

NASA’s rover situation on Mars is, well, complicated. The aging Opportunity rover was swallowed up by the planet-wide dust storm that covered Mars earlier this summer and hasn’t woken back up since. The rover’s extended mission is currently in limbo while NASA waits to see if it still has some life left in it, so all eyes have been on the newer Curiosity rover as it continues to explore the Martian surface.

Now, in a new update by the Curiosity team, it seems the last working robot is coming down with a case of… something. It seems Curiosity is refusing to send back the vital scientific data that it has been gathering, and NASA isn’t sure what’s wrong.

“Over the past few days, engineers here at JPL have been working to address an issue on Curiosity that is preventing it from sending much of the science and engineering data stored in its memory,” the Curiosity team explains. “The rover remains in its normal mode and is otherwise healthy and responsive.”

The rover isn’t totally silent, however, and is still relaying certain status information, just not the science data it has stored locally. This strange set of circumstances is leaving Curiosity’s engineers scratching their heads.

“Besides transmitting data recorded in its memory, the rover can transmit ‘real-time’ data when it links to a relay orbiter or Deep Space Network antenna,” the team writes. “These real-time data are transmitting normally, and include various details about the rover’s status. Engineers are expanding the details the rover transmits in these real-time data to better diagnose the issue.”

Opportunity — that’s the one that’s currently sleeping off its dust storm hangover — has far surpassed its original mission timeline. Originally intended to last just 90 days on Mars, it has managed to push on for well over a decade. Curiosity is much newer, having landed on the planet in mid 2012, and it’s done some fantastic work thus far. Its primary mission stretched for roughly two years, and it has been continuing its work ever since.

Whatever is wrong with Curiosity we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed that it gets resolved in short order.