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President Obama to congratulate Mars rover Curiosity team

August 13, 2012 |  7:09 am

A week after the Mars rover Curiosity team at JPL successfully maneuvered the craft onto the Red Planet's surface, President Obama is scheduled to call them with congratulations.

According to NASA, Obama plans to call at 8 a.m. PDT Monday; it will be live-streamed.

NASA said the rover is going through a four-day "brain transplant." During this time, engineers are  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.

INTERACTIVE: Curiosity, from liftoff to landing

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."

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

PHOTOS: Mars rover mission

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

On 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, Scott Gold and Shelby Grad