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Mars Rover Is Out of Commission (For Now)

Short circuit halts Curiosity in its tracks

NASA's Curiosity rover caught this image of its drill just days before a short circuit caused it to shut down. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)
smithsonian.com

It might seem like everything’s coming up Mars lately, but NASA’s exploration of the red planet hit a speed bump this week. A short circuit in the Curiosity rover has forced a multi-day delay as technicians figure out what’s going on.

In a release, NASA described the glitch as a “transient short circuit” that occurred while the rover was busy transferring rock powder to an analysis chamber using its robotic arm. Curiosity is programmed to disable itself when it senses irregularities in its wiring, so it stopped the arm and is staying put while technicians perform tests.

Curiosity’s project manager, Jim Erickson, says that NASA won’t drive or move Curiosity until it completes tests, and that it’s not yet certain how the short will affect the mission long-term. (It could have “little effect”—or it could restrict the use of the rover's robotic arm or other mechanisms.)

Space.com reports that the rover is expected to stay put for at least a few days. It won’t be the first delay for Curiosity, which has bounced back from computer glitches, wheel damage and other challenges since it landed on Mars in 2012.

But while Curiosity pauses, there’s plenty of other Mars news to consider—like the possibility that the rover is destroying the very organic molecules it’s on the planet to discover. In new experiments, astrobiologists have found that a mineral called jarosite could be vaporizing organic molecules before the rover can discover them.

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