Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

NASA Engineers Prep for a Software Upgrade. On Mars.

From the Department of Things That Make Working at NASA Cool, there’s this today: Technicians running the mission of the Curiosity rover that landed on the planet Mars earlier this week are going to upgrade the robot’s software.

If that doesn’t sound terribly interesting in and of itself, consider every software upgrade you’ve ever performed, whether on your own PC or on a remote server somewhere, and then take this into account: Curiosity is 350 million miles away. And if something goes wrong, it could turn the $2.5 billion, SUV-sized rolling science lab into an expensive hard-to-reach statue.

Computerworld has the details, and quotes Steve Scandore, a senior flight software engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as saying: “You have to imagine that if something goes wrong with this, it could be the last time you hear from the rover.”

The new software, which is designed to help the rover get around Mars, whereas the old software was designed for the landing process, was sent to the rover while it was flying through space en route to Mars. Since then it has been lying dormant and waiting for the command to upgrade. It’ll take two days to upgrade the main system on board and then two days to upgrade the backups.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik