NASA's Curiosity rover has halted its exploration of Mars for at least a few days while the U.S. space agency conducts a test to determine what caused a short circuit. The mechanical glitch could either be a short-term problem or significantly hinder Curiosity's movements as it continues to survey the Red Planet.
NASA announced late Tuesday that, because of an “onboard fault-protection action,” the “process of transferring sample material between devices on the rover's robotic arm” has been suspended for several days.
Curiosity, launched in 2011 to study the climate and geology of Mars, was in the process of transferring rock powder into the rover in an area called Telegraph Peak. An electrical irregularity occurred, triggering a response that froze the robotic arm in place. NASA is now hoping that the glitch will have only a slight effect on operations, and not force the agency to reconsider the mission's capabilities.
“We are running tests on the vehicle in its present configuration before we move the arm or drive,” Curiosity Project Manager Jim Erickson, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in California, said in a press release. “This gives us the best opportunity to determine where the short is.”
Curiosity's mission was extended indefinitely in 2012, and is providing NASA with information for future missions to Mars. It previously discovered an enormous lake crater that could have supported microbial life on the planet for more than 100,000 years.