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NASA's Mars rover is having trouble sending data back

CNET logo CNET 9/19/2018 Amanda Kooser
The Mars Curiosity rover is sitting pretty on a ridge on Mars. © CNET The Mars Curiosity rover is sitting pretty on a ridge on Mars.

There's no rest for NASA's Mars rover specialists. The Curiosity rover is struggling with an issue that is preventing it from beaming science and engineering data stored in its memory back to Earth. 

The problem first cropped up over the weekend, prompting engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to investigate the cause and potential fixes. NASA says it might be a while before it can figure out what's happening.

"Because the amount of data coming down is limited, it might take some time for the engineering team to diagnose the problem," Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada wrote in a Wednesday mission update. The rover is otherwise "healthy and responsive," he said.

curiositydrillmark © Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. curiositydrillmark

The rover is usually able to send back both stored and real-time data when it talks with Earth. The real-time data, including rover status information, is working fine. Stored data, however, isn't getting transmitted. JPL engineers are expanding the status details the rover sends back in real-time to help with the diagnosis. 

NASA may end up switching to the rover's backup computer in order to ferret out what's happening with the primary computer. In the meantime, Curiosity's science operations are on hiatus.

NASA has had its hands full with Mars rovers lately. The Opportunity rover has been silent since June when it went into hibernation during a massive global dust storm.

Curiosity has been trying to drill around its location at the Vera Rubin Ridge, but encountered a series of rocks that are too hard to crack. The rover team was planning to seek out a new rock target when the data problem cropped up. 

NASA has a good track record of coming up with solutions to problems with Curiosity. The agency has successfully overcome everything from a memory glitch in 2013 to a balky drill earlier this year. That means the rover is in good hands during this latest mission complication.

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