With the new year right around the corner, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has been checking a few things off of its own to-do list, including the completion of a new software upgrade.
"Curiosity is now operating on version 11 of its flight software," said Jim Erickson of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, project manager for the NASA Mars Science Laboratory Project, which operates Curiosity.
The upgrade, which took about a week to complete and marked the rover's third since landing 16 months ago, was officials' second attempt to install the latest version after a previous switch prompted an unintended reboot on Nov. 7 and the subsequent return to version 10.
Version 11 brings with it a number of advances, including expanded capability for using the rover's robotic arm while the probe is situated on slopes and increased flexibility for storing information overnight that can then be used in resuming autonomous driving the following day.
Curiosity's software isn't the only thing mission operators are focused on. In coming days, officials will drive the rover to a smooth area in order to take a series of pictures of the robot's aluminum wheels using the Mars Hand Lens Imager camera.
"We want to take a full inventory of the condition of the wheels," Erickson said. "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. However, we would like to understand the impact that this terrain type has on the wheels, to help with planning future drives."
Lately, Curiosity's travels have forced it across a number of sharp rocks. Based on the results of the upcoming check-up, new routes for future destinations may be mapped in order to minimize wear and tear on the probe.
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