After more than a year on the red planet, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is getting some routine maintenance. The space agency upgraded Curiosity's software and will soon check the rover's wheels, as the craft has crossed some pretty rough terrain in the past few months.
Curiosity is in the middle of its five-mile journey to Mount Sharp, taking a few detours for scientifc purposes along the way. The rover began the trip to Mount Sharp in July, having previously moved only 500 yards, or 1,500 feet, from its landing site in the Gale Crater to the Glenelg area of the crater. In order to prepare Curiosity for the months ahead, NASA has ugraded its flight software to improve performance features of the rover.
The flight-software upgrade is the rover's third since landing on Mars, notes NASA. Curiosity's flight software is version 11 and unlocks some useful features that the rover can use for its scientific mission. The upgrade improves the rover's ability to use its robotic arm while on slopes and also improves overnight data storage the rover can use for autonomous driving on consecutive days.
An earlier attempt to upgrade Curiosity's software caused a technical glitch that put the rover in safe mode on Nov. 7, reports NASA. And later in the month, the rover had an electrical issue that temporarily halted operations.
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In addition to getting a software upgrade, NASA will check Curiosity's tires during a brief pit stop. Jim Erickson, project manager for the NASA Mars Science Laboratory Project, said in a statement, "Dents and holes were anticipated, but the amount of wear appears to have accelerated in the past month or so. It appears to be correlated with driving over rougher terrain. The wheels can sustain significant damage without impairing the rover's ability to drive." Erickson will assess damage to the rover's wheels and use that information to possibly alter some upcoming routes. The damage report could also be used for future missions to develop tires that could better handle rocky terrain.