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Curiosity Rover to Resume Experiments After Arm 'Sprain'

Mar 09, 2015 12:21 PM EDT
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It's ok Curiosity, you can finally relax your arm. According to NASA, the Mars rover known as Curiosity has been holding still for several days for fear of sparking disaster after a short-circuit was detected in one of its drilling arms. Now, the agency is reporting that the rover can go back to business as usual as early as next week.

"Diagnostic testing this week has been productive in narrowing the possible sources of the transient short circuit," Jim Erickson, the Curiosity Project Manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement Friday. "The most likely cause is an intermittent short in the percussion mechanism of the drill. After further analysis to confirm that diagnosis, we will be analyzing how to adjust for that in future drilling."

So what exactly does that mean? It's easiest to think of this short-circuit as a minor sprain. Scientists were worried that if it was severe enough, or in such a place that was crucial for basic tasks, then Curiosity would have to forego using its arm entirely. Thankfully, that's not the case; just don't go looking for the rover to attempt some juggling anytime soon... or ever again.

As Nature World News previously reported, a short-circuit in such advanced robotics is not exactly the end of the world, but as there are no humans on Mars - never mind electrical engineers - a 'quick fix' becomes a no-fix.

Monitoring data has revealed to Curiosity's team that the apparent short-circuit occurred for less than one one-hundredth of a second, when the robot was busy shaking soil samples out of the grooves of its drill. Those samples were expected to be delivered to a mechanism that sieves the Martian powder further up the arm, but when everything stopped, the samples never got there.

The JPL team now expects Curiosity's geological surveys to be back on track by next week, even while it gingerly works to move the undelivered samples while avoiding strain.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS

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