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Mars rover Curiosity: another computer glitch delays exploration


Mars rover Curiosity's self-portrait



A “software issue” has switched the Mars rover Curiosity into standby mode, stopping the rover from drilling into rocks, taking photographs or driving around the Red Planet until the problem is fixed, the Associated Press reported.

NASA officials say this latest glitch is not serious, the Los Angeles Times reported. When a “command file failed a size-check by the rover’s protective software,” NASA officials said, the rover automatically went into “precautionary standby” mode. The officials said they expect the rover, which is still in contact with the mission controllers, to be back to work in a few days, according to the LA Times.

However, it’s the second glitch in less than a month, following a computer memory problem on Feb. 27 that stopped exploration of Mars’ Gale Crater at the beginning of March, the LA Times reported.

According to the AP:

It's the longest stretch of inactivity since Curiosity's daring touchdown near the Martian equator last year.

Before switching into standby mode, Curiosity collected and analyzed a rock sample that shows that the ancient Martian environment could have supported primitive microbial life, the AP reported.

More from GlobalPost: Curiosity rover completes first drill into Mars bedrock

Scientists are chomping at the bit to move the rover to nearby Mt. Sharp, which has layers of rock, the LA Times reported.

“With one habitable environment in the bag, we now can see if such environments persisted over time, and maybe even see Mars turn from an ancient, wet planet into the dry, barren planet it is today,” deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada told the LA Times.

But starting April 4, a temporary command moratorium is scheduled for Curiosity. NASA scientists will stop sending orders to the rover for about four weeks while the sun passes between Mars and the Earth. Interference from the sun could corrupt the commands, according to the LA Times.

"We would definitely like to get over this (latest glitch) and get back to doing something," project manager Richard Cook of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told the AP.