NASA’s rover ‘Curiosity’ has spent its first weekend on Mars getting a ‘brain transplant’ enabling to enhance its performance by avoiding hazards while driving and using its strong robotic arm.

The ‘brain transplant’ that the rover is going through is installing a new version of software in both of its redundant main computers in a series of steps from August 10 to August 13, NASA said in a statement.

The software for Mars surface operations was uploaded to the rover’s memory during the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft’s flight from Earth.

“We designed the mission from the start to be able to upgrade the software as needed for different phases of the mission,” said Ben Cichy of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, chief software engineer for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

“The flight software version Curiosity, currently, is using was really focussed on landing the vehicle. It includes many capabilities we just don’t need any more. It gives us basic capabilities for operating the rover on the surface, but we have planned all along to switch over after landing to a version of flight software that is really optimised for surface operations,” Cichy said.

A key capability in the new version is image processing to check for obstacles. This allows for longer drives by giving the rover more autonomy to identify and avoid potential hazards and drive along a safe path the rover identifies for it.

Other new capabilities facilitate use of the tools at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.

’Curiosity’ had made a spectacular landing in Gale Crater at 05:30 GMT (11:00 IST) on August 6 in a two-year search to find out if the red planet once hosted conditions suitable for life.

(This article was published on August 13, 2012)
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