Cosmic Strike Disables Curiosity's Main Computer, Delaying Science
March 2, 2013 • 9:50AM

As has happened to many spacecraft outside the protective radiation shield of the Earth, NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab reported yesterday that Mars rover Curiosity's main "A" computer was corrupted, getting stuck in an endless loop, most likely due to a high-energy solar or cosmic ray strike. The main computer had to be turned off, and the rover switched over to its back-up "B" computer. Curiosity had stopped sending data back to Earth on two days ago, and the switch-over command was sent to the rover yesterday. The loss of the A computer will not have a long-term impact on the mission, project manager Richard Cook said, but it will delay science operations for about a week.

This delay comes at a moment when Curiosity's scoop has delivered the first ever sample of subsurface rock particles to its analytic instruments, and scientists had hoped to obtain data on the results of the instruments' chemical analysis before early April. At that time, the Sun comes between Mars and Earth (solar conjunction) blocking radio communications between the two plants for a month. Engineers are working on a way to restore the A computer, so it will be available as a back-up.