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Mars rover 'Curiosity' getting a four-day 'brain transplant'

LOS ANGELES — After a week of transmitted dramatic photos of Mars, rover Curiosity is going to have a four-day "brain transplant."

Engineers will be updating Curiosity's software, currently primed for its flight stage, to prepare it for its Martian surface operations. 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 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."

In the meantime, 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 Mars landing.

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

Curiosity joins Opportunity, which has been exploring craters in Mars' southern hemisphere since 2004, according to the Associated Press. Opportunity's twin, Spirit, fell silent in 2010 after getting stuck in a sand trap. Curiosity's prime mission lasts two years.

Mars rover 'Curiosity' getting a four-day 'brain transplant' 08/11/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 11, 2012 11:47pm]
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