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Curiosity Rover Takes a Time Out After 'Short Circuit'

Mar 04, 2015 02:01 PM EST

NASA mission directors have announced that the Curiosity Mars rover will be out of commission for a spell as engineers remotely work out what triggered an onboard fault protection action that halted important experimental procedures. NASA assures us that the rover is down, but not out.

The agency reported Tuesday that a brief short-circuit occurred while Curiosity was simply shifting samples from one scientific device to another on its robotic arm. As programmed, to avoid any catastrophic damages, the robot literally stopped in its tracks, now holding perfectly still awaiting instruction.

"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 Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., explained in a statement. "This gives us the best opportunity to determine where the short is."

And of course, finding that short-circuit is only half the battle. If the problem is in a less consequential part of the robot, NASA reports that it will have "very little effect on rover operations." However, if the short is found in a commonly used part, the team would be forced to restrict what Curiosity can do in the future, potentially reworking the rover's entire mission plan. After all, NASA's not ready to send astronauts, never mind an electrical engineer, up to join Curiosity on the Red Planet just yet.

Landing in 2012, Curiosity is actually the fourth successful NASA rover to travel to Mars since Sojourner left the Pathfinder lander in 1996. Unexpected troubles ranging from short circuits to simply getting stuck in the dirt have retired two of the previous models. However, the Opportunity rover is still trucking along, soon to reach an Olympic marathon distance of driving 26.219 miles.

Now engineers sit around with fingers crossed, hoping that Curiosity will be hale enough to try its own hand at that incredible feat in the future.

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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