NASA recently explained a serious issue that the Curiosity rover encountered on Mars. According to the agency, the rover momentarily got lost after it failed to analyze its exact position.
Launched by NASA in 2011, the Curiosity rover reached Mars in August of 2012. For over seven years, car-sized rover has been navigating across the Martian surface to study the planet's environmental conditions.
How The Curiosity Rover Navigates
As a robotic rover, Curiosity navigates around Mars using commands sent by NASA from Earth. But, the rover doesn't only rely on NASA's mission scientists to move around Mars. According to the agency, Curiosity has special features that help it determine its position as it explores the Red Planet. In a recent blog post, planetary geologist Dawn Sumner of the University of California Davis explained how the rover establishes its bearings on Mars using the orientation of its body. The rover then uses this data to navigate through its surroundings.
"Rovers also need to know where their bodies are relative to their surroundings," Sumner explained. "Curiosity stores its body attitude in memory, things like the orientation of each joint, which instrument on the end of its arm is pointing down, and how close APXS is to the ground."
Getting Lost In Mars
Unfortunately, during Curiosity's last set of activities, the rover momentarily lost its orientation. According to Sumner, this may have occurred after the rover encountered inaccurate readings regarding its exact altitude. Since it suddenly became unaware of its surroundings, the rover stopped moving to prevent itself from bumping into undetected objects. While remaining motionless, the rover tried to assess its position.
It also alerted NASA regarding its current statue, prompting the agency to help the rover find its bearings. Fortunately, the agency was able to establish communications with the rover, which helped in find its bearings.
"Curiosity stopped moving, freezing in place until its knowledge of its orientation can be recovered," Sumner explained. "Curiosity kept sending us information, so we know what happened and can develop a recovery plan."
"The engineers on the team built a plan to inform Curiosity of its altitude and to confirm what happened," she added. "We want Curiosity to recover its ability to make its safety checks."