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Mars rover Opportunity shuns dodgy flash chips, relies on RAM

Daily uploads from memory are the new black on the red planet

NASA says its aging solar-powered Opportunity rover will from now on explore the Red Planet without using its flash memory whenever possible.

Opportunity has been on Mars since 2004, and it was expected to work for three months. Glitches in the rover's flash memory, which first became apparent with an ”amnesia” incident in late 2014, are therefore thoroughly excusable. NASA reformatted the rover's flash to try and sort things out, but the problems persisted.

NASA now says “occurrences increased again later in the spring” and has therefore decided to avoid using flash because doing so glitches the rover and necessitates more remediation attempts.

Opportunity is instead relying on RAM and uploading data every day, instead of storing it in flash and sending it home when convenient. NASA says Opportunity worked this way for a few months in 2014, so is confident it can keep on exploring mars without its flash.

And by confident, we mean confident enough to plan “several months” of activity in “Marathon Valley, where the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has “detected exposures of clay minerals holding evidence about ancient wet environmental conditions.” En route, the vehicle has spent time exploring “Spirit of St. Louis Crater” and its intriguing “band of reddish material.”

The next few months should be good times for Opportunity, because Mars' winter has come to an end. With plenty of solar energy on offer, its operators are hopeful of lots more lovely data reaching Earth. ®

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