NASA is preparing to reset and wipe the flash memory in their Mars rover Opportunity. Opportunity is the older of the two rovers cruising around on Mars’ surface and has done so since 2004. With it’s general age and the harsh environment it operates in, but also the older technology in use, it is starting to show more and more problems. NASA’s engineers had to reset the rover with increasing frequency and during August they had to do it over a dozen of times alone.
Now they’ve had enough, and the flash has to be wiped. The rover uses the same type of flash as we do here on earth. But 10 years ago the automatic garbage collection functions, like TRIM, weren’t well developed yet and a lot of the flash has burned out. NASA’s engineers expect this to be the root of the trouble they’re having.
NASA will make a backup of everything stored on the flash, remotely to earth, and then wipe it clean. Then all the worn out cells in the flash memory will be marked as defective so they don’t get used any more. When that is done, all the data back will be flashed back to the rover before it gets another reset and reboot. While this sounds like a pretty serious memory surgery to some, all the rovers critical software is stored outside of the flash and won’t be affected. And looking at the technical point of it, a pretty ordinary task.
Still, I can’t help to think of the increased pulse and heart rate I get every time I have to re-flash an expensive piece of hardware, so I can only imagine that some of the NASA engineers are exited and nervous about the impending wipe. It’s still a pretty normal task for system admins, if you take away the part where they are located about 125 million miles away from the rover.
Opportunity has already set the record for most distance driven off-earth, and it looks like NASA hasn’t given up on it yet. There is still a lot of clay and shadows to be discovered on Mars.
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