NASA’s Mars Rover to Be Reset and Wiped

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.

Thank you cnet for providing us with this information

Image courtesy of cnet.

Swatch in No Hurry with Smartwatch, but It Is on the Way

Swatch Group is in no hurry to join the smartwatch wagon and don’t want any outside help either. They are happy to go the route alone and are planning for a launch of their own watches with smart features next year.

We’ve already seen all the big technology companies like Apple, Motorola and Samsung, as well as some smaller yet unknown companies, leak, present and release their own smart watches. Swatch doesn’t see this as a threat but rather a huge opportunity with a market that’s potentially worth $93 billion.

Swatch Chief Executive Nick Hayek said these new watches might allow the wearer to count the number of steps they take and calories they burn. He continued, “and there will be a few other cool Swatchy things on offer via latest Bluetooth technology.” “All the big technology firms want to work with us and I don’t rule out that we are or could be collaborating in some areas. But we can also do many things on our own.”

Smartwatches and other wearable gadgets are expected to be the next big thing in the tech-world, allowing the users to monitor their health, fitness and on-line statuses when connect to their smartphones. Smartwatches themselves are seen as the biggest threat for the traditional watch makers, as less and less people even wear watches and just use the phone’s build in clock instead. So it is no wonder that Swatch is betting on the new era as well, just not yet.

“For Swatch, this could mean a 2 percent hit to revenue and earnings before interest and tax for each 10 percent share that the iWatch was able to gain in its addressable market,” Bernstein analyst Mario Ortelli said in a study in July. Ortelli has a “market perform” rating on Swatch’s shares.

While the spotlight is on Apple at the moment with their special invite event next month, where everyone expects the iWatch to be officially introduced, Swatch’s stocks are dropping. The possibility of an iWatch launch is partly responsible for Swatch shares losing almost 15 percent so far this year, lagging a 3 percent rise in the European sector.

Many in the industry, as well as customers, have spoken out for an alliance between Apple and Swatch. But Swatch has no interest in this relationship, as they say, “they sell watches and not technology”. Swatch is about fashion, branding and style.

“Our first message for customers is the watch. If they like it, they might also be interested in the extra functions,” Hayek said. “It is a problem if you only define a product by its technology. Technology alone doesn’t sell, not in watches.”

Thank you Reuters for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Swatch.

Opportunity Sets New Record for Longest Distance Driven off-Earth

Opportunity first touched down on the red planet back in 2004, at which point its original mission plan only required it to drive for 1 kilometre (0.62 miles) within its first 90 days on Mars. Of course it’s not uncommon for many space missions to out last their original mission, and with plenty of juice in the batteries the Mars rover has been going strong for ten years now.

Opportunity recently clocked up 25.01 miles of driving on the Martian landscape, putting it firmly ahead of the previous record holder, the Soviet Lunokhod 2 rover which had covered 24.2 miles in its life time after landing on the moon in 1973. This is a huge achievement for a piece of hardware that was only intended to run a 90 day mission, it wasn’t even supposed to last more than one year!

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Manager John Callas said it is “not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance.”

How long the rover will continue its extended mission is unknown, but NASA are hoping it has what it takes to make it at least one more mile to a new investigation site, and we wish it the best of luck on its journey.

Thank you NASA for providing us with this information.

Images courtesy of NASA.

NASA Reveal The True Mystery Behind Mars “Pinnacle Island”

You may remember that over the last week or so there has been a lot of debate about an object on the Martian surface, a rock like object that was nicknamed “Pinnacle Island” by scientists at NASA. When the Mars rover Opportunity first inspected the area there was nothing there, twelve days later this thing is sat right in front of them and speculation was fierce over what it could be, with NASA saying it’s either a very close call with a meteor or something kicked up by the rovers tracks, to one astrobiologist actually suing NASA for not investigating it further, as he believed it could be a mushroom like fungus.

Turns out NASA were right on the money with their second guess, after they had finished investigating the rock they discovered they had driven over a larger rock of the same composition and that the “Pinnacle Island” rock was just a broken off part. Not to be disappointed by the strange rock ” “Opportunity’s instruments have revealed that [Pinnacle Island] has high levels of sulfur and manganese, water soluble ingredients that may have been concentrated in the rock thanks to the action of water.” said NASA while speaking to LA Times.

There are a lot of huge discoveries just waiting to be found on Mars and while this wasn’t one of them, you never know what rock they might turn over next.

Thank you Arstechnica for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Arstechnica.

NASA Finds “Mysterious” Rock In Front Of Mars’ Opportunity Rover

NASA scientists from the Mars Exploration Rover project have discovered a strange discrepancy in two photos taken by the Opportunity rover. The first picture displays a photo taken 3528 SOL days (or Martian days) after the Opportunity arrived on Mars. The second photo shows the exact landscape, only with a strange object, presumably a rock, added to the background just after 12 SOL days.

The first reaction of NASA’s scientists looked like: “‘wait a second, that wasn’t there before, it can’t be right. Oh my god! It wasn’t there before!’ We were absolutely startled.” The object itself is merely the size of a “jelly doughnut”, as they described it. Nonetheless, it is a startling discovery for NASA scientists since they cannot explain the ‘rock’s whereabouts. Therefore, they have already cooked up a couple of possibilities of how the “jelly doughnut” got there.

The first theory is described as the rock belonging to a meteor which has entered the Martian atmosphere, and a fragment that detached from the meteor might have found its place in the exact spot we are looking at now. The other, more plausible, theory is that the rover itself might have tipped it over when it did a turn in place on bedrock, having one of its wheels broken. The manoeuvre might have coupled a portion of the rock to the wheel, which in turn flipped it.

There is still the “third” possibility, as every alien fanatic out there might think, that a Martian threw the rock (obviously ruled out of the question). Whatever the cause might be for the mysterious object’s appearance, we will undoubtedly see more information about it as scientists are eager to analyse it from each and every angle possible (and impossible even).

Thank you Gizmodo for providing us with this information
Image courtesy of Gizmodo