Mars rover Curiosity gets software update, ‘brain transplant’

Annoyed when it takes months for your Android phone to get an update to the latest and greatest version of the platform? NASA‘s Curiosity rover has no such complaints.

We’d say it was getting as update over-the-air (OTA), but it’s not, since there’s no atmosphere in space. What NASA’s rover is getting is a transmitted update to its systems software, one that was actually delivered during the flight to Mars.

NASA called the update a “brain transplant,” saying it will transition the Curiosity’s programming from software dedicated to landing the vehicle to software optimized for its main mission: exploring Mars.

The update will take place from Aug. 10 to Aug. 13, in stepped fashion. Those who have seen their smartphones bricked by a buggy update will be crossing their fingers on this.

One key component of the update will enhance the rover’s ability to drive. The new software includes image processing to check for obstacles, enabling Curiosity to autonomously avoid potential hazards on its own.

While NASA awaits the update to be complete, the mission team is analyzing images that Curiosity has already transmitted back to Earth. At the same time, scientists are discussing where Curiosity should explore first, after a few weeks of systems checkouts.

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