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Mars rover Curiosity, and NASA scientists, take a little break

August 12, 2012 |  8:56 am

The Mars rover Curiosity -- and NASA scientists -- are taking a little break.

After transmitting dramatic photos from the Red Planet during the first week of the operation, NASA said the rover is going through a four-day "brain transplant."

As the rover goes under the digital knife, many scientists will be taking a break and getting used to their newfound fame.

"I got recognized in a pizza parlor on Wednesday," said systems engineer Allen Chen, who emceed the rover's landing on Aug. 5. "That was a little weird for me."

During the "brain transplant," engineers are to be updating Curiosity's software, currently primed for its flight stage, to prepare it for its operations on the surface of Mars. The update will add two crucial functions -- the ability to use the geochemistry lab's sampling system, and to drive.

The update had to wait until after the rover landed because its processor, built years ago to withstand the harsh environment of interplanetary space, is limited compared with today's consumer technology, said senior software engineer Ben Cichy.

"My phone has a processor that is 10 times as fast as the processor that's on Curiosity and has 16 times as much storage as Curiosity has," Cichy said. "And my phone doesn't have to land anything on Mars."

Also Friday, engineers offered their most detailed assessment of Curiosity's landing. The craft, they said, landed about 1.5 miles away from its predicted touchdown zone -- not bad, given that the site was more than 150 million miles away and that the projected landing zone was an ellipse 12 miles wide.


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-- Amina Khan