While people on Earth were finishing up their Christmas shopping last week, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity was receiving its own Christmas gift in the form of new software.
According to NASA, Curiosity has now received its third software upgrade since landing on Mars over one year ago. The upgrade took about a week to transition the rover to the 11th version of its flight software, which expands the rover's more capabilities.
This software upgrade was successful, though the transition was rolled back in November following a failed update. During that upgrade, Curiosity experienced an unexpected reboot into its safe mode. Researchers later determined that the error was caused by file error and soon resumed normal operations while preparing for the December update.
With the rover's software up to date, Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) team members are also preparing to inspect each of Curiosity's wheels. The rover will take pictures of its own wheels using its arm. Researchers will be looking at the condition of each wheel to help them plan future jaunts across the red planet's surface while minimizing damage to the wheels.
"We want to take a full inventory of the condition of the wheels," said Jim Erickson, project manager for the MSL Project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "Dents and holes were anticipated, but the amount of wear appears to have accelerated in the past month or so. It appears to be correlated with driving over rougher terrain. The wheels can sustain significant damage without impairing the rover's ability to drive. However, we would like to understand the impact that this terrain type has on the wheels, to help with planning future drives."
Curiosity is currently on a months-long journey to the base of a Martian mountain named Mount Sharp. Once there, researchers hope to compare exposed layers of rock to the rock formations seen near the rover's landing site.
Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech