The JPL team operating NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover is confident to return the rover to full activity following a precautionary stand-down since July 2, 2016.
Ground controllers are communicating with Curiosity, which they said is stable though it put itself into safe mode suddenly, ceasing most activities other than keeping itself healthy and following a prescribed sequence for resuming communications.
Engineers are working to determine the cause of safe-mode entry and said preliminary information shows an unexpected mismatch between camera software and data-processing software in the main computer, which could have been the reason for safe mode entry.
However, this is not the first time Curiosity entered safe mode as in 2013 it entered into similar state three times and resumed its activities later. The near-term steps toward resuming full activities involves conducting more diagnostic tools.
The rover landed in Mars’ Gale Crater in August 2012 and has unveiled several features of the Red Planet including determining that, more than 3 billion years ago, the region offered fresh-water lakes and an environment suitable for microbial life at least.
Curiosity is the main source of information for mankind to learn about the ancient wet environments and how and when they evolved to drier and less habitable conditions.
NASA has recently extended the study of Curiosity project by two more years from Oct. 1, 2016, for the Mars Science Laboratory Project, which developed and operates Curiosity.
Last month NASA said some of the wind-sculpted sand ripples on Mars, which are a type not seen on Earth, sent by Curiosity six months ago. The “Bagnold Dunes” on the northwestern flank of Mars’ Mount Sharp are like big sand dunes and small sand ripples on earth but on Mars, there’s something in between that Earth doesn’t have.
Both planets have true dunes — typically larger than a football field — with downwind faces shaped by sand avalanches, making them steeper than the upwind faces.
Images of Martian sand dunes taken from orbit have, for years, shown ripples about 10 feet (3 meters) apart on dunes’ surfaces. Until Curiosity studied the Bagnold Dunes, the interpretation was that impact ripples on Mars could be several times larger than impact ripples on Earth.
Once revived, Curiosity will approach the Bagnold Dunes indicating the density of the fluid moving the grains in the Martian atmosphere, that was supposed to have had a thicker atmosphere in the past.