Mars rover Opportunity suffering from 'amnesia' says NASA

"It forgets what it has done," describes NASA.
By Matt Bradwell  |  Dec. 31, 2014 at 11:48 AM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Researchers at NASA are working to improve the memory of the Mars exploration rover Opportunity after a series of glitches in recent weeks led to what officials are describing as "amnesia" within the its memory banks.

The rover relies on orbital passes from the Mars Odyssey satellite to relay communications and commands to and from NASA, but when a pass does not occur between the rover's power cycles -- a relatively frequent occurrence -- the rover fails to transfer information from its temporary RAM to its permanent flash memory. The rover's repeated attempts and fails to save data to the flash memory cause it to it reboot, essentially erasing its last set of commands received.

"Volatile memory is like the traditional RAM you have in your computer; non-volatile memory uses flash memory technology," Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told Discovery News.

"So now we're having these events we call 'amnesia,' which is the rover trying to use the flash memory, but it wasn't able to, so instead it uses the RAM ... it stores telemetry data in that volatile memory, but when the rover goes to sleep and wakes up again, all (the data) is gone. So that's why we call it amnesia -- it forgets what it has done."

Opportunity has been working without flash memory since earlier in December, when NASA first reported the memory problems.

"While we're operating Opportunity in that mode, we are also working on an approach to make the flash memory usable again," Callas said at the time.

"We will be sure to give this approach exhaustive reviews before implementing those changes on the rover."

Topics: John Callas
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