NASA’s Opportunity rover is still trundling across the surface of Mars, more than 11 years after its 90 day mission began. But its software is getting bogged down, so NASA’s doing a full system backup, memory wipe, and reboot. It’s just like your routine computer cleanup, just from the next planet over. Both Spirit and Opportunity carry 256MB of flash memory, used to store data that’s uploaded back to earth. After years and years of overwrites, it seems some of the flash memory cells are starting to fail, causing Opportunity to reboot itself unprompted a dozen times this month. Each reboot takes about a day to complete, stealing time away from Opportunity’s research tasks.
IT administrators at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are preparing to perform an interplanetary remote wipe and reboot on its Martian Opportunity rover after the decade-old explorer began to get a bit senile. Opportunity’s computer systems are powered by a radiation-hardened IBM 20 MHz RAD6000 RISC processor and it stores data to upload to Earth on 256 MB of flash memory. Individual cells in each section of its flash memory have now been overwritten so many times that Opportunity is resetting itself dozens of times a month. “Worn-out cells in the flash memory are the leading suspect in causing these resets,”said JPL’s John Callas, project manager for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Project. “The flash reformatting is a low-risk process, as critical sequences and flight software are stored elsewhere in other non-volatile memory on the rover.” The team plans to upload all the data stored in Opportunity’s memory banks for backup on Earth. A reformatting command will then be sent to the rover early next month, which will clear healthy circuits and identify the duff ones to be avoided in the future.