NASA completes `brain transplant’ on Curiosity rover

Los Angeles: NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has announced that it has completed “brain transplant” on Mars rover Curiosity.

As its main and backup computers have been successfully upgraded with new software after a four-day effort, Curiosity is now a big step closer to begin its mission of finding out whether life has ever existed on Mars, according to the JPL.

Curiosity has been on the surface of Mars for over a week now since it successfully touched down Aug 5, reported Xinhua.

JPL announced Friday that Curiosity would undergo a “brain transplant” for four days during the weekend to update the software on the rover’s main and backup computers, a necessary step before Curiosity can begin roving.

“We have successfully completed the brain transplant,” said Curiosity mission manager Mike Watkins at the JPL.

“Now we are moving on to a new phase of functional checkouts of the science instruments and preparations for a short test drive,” he added.

The first drive, possibly within a week or so, will likely include short forward and reverse segments and a turn.

Curiosity has a separate drive motor on each of its six wheels and steering motors on the four corner wheels. Preparation and testing of the motor controllers will precede the first drive, according to JPL.

After the test drive, the planning schedule has an “intermission” before a second testing phase focused on use of the rover’s robotic arm.

For the intermission, the 400-member science team will have the opportunity to pick a location for Curiosity to drive to before the arm-testing weeks, the JPL said.

“It’s fair to say that the scientists, not to mention the rover drivers, are itching to move,” said JPL’s Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project scientist for Curiosity.

Scientists at the JPL uploaded the new software from Pasadena onto Curiosity, which had travelled 350 million miles to reach the Mars.

While the new software sat dormant, the spacecraft used flight software optimized to direct it through the Martian atmosphere and safely land on target in the Gale Crater on the Martian surface, according to the JPL.

Scientists said the newly uploaded software is optimised to drive the rover, operate the robotic arm and scoop up and analyse soil samples.

With that software successfully loaded, engineers are back to testing the rover’s various operational and scientific instruments.

Scientists calculated that it would take several weeks to get Curiosity ready to work on Mars when it first landed and had hoped that the rover would drive by early September.

“Today, they’re building their code from scratch,” said Watkins.

“The first few days after landing, they had a pretty solid script. All that was on board and they activated it with small changes. Now, we’re assembling all this from scratch on the ground,” said Watkins.

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