NASA is putting its Curiosity Mars rover on hold for a few days as engineers try to determine the cause and severity of a recent short circuit. The space agency says that during a recent sample-taking operation, the unmanned explorer suffered a transient short circuit that activated an automatic shutdown by the rover's computers.
According to NASA, the short circuit occurred on February 27 while Curiosity was transferring rock powder collected from an area called "Telegraph Peak" by its drill for processing before being passed on to the nuclear-powered rover's internal laboratory.
During this operation, the "hand" on the end of Curiosity's robotic arm was turned with the drill pointing up and its percussion mechanism was shaking rock powder from the drill bit into a collection system for sieving and portioning before going on for analysis.
NASA telemetry indicates that the short circuit caused an irregularity in the rover's electric current, setting off a preprogrammed response that halted the arm. The space agency is now studying the data to determine the cause and the severity of the fault, pointing out that it may have little effect on the mission or could force the use of the robotic arm to be restricted in future.
"We are running tests on the vehicle in its present configuration before we move the arm or drive," says Curiosity Project Manager Jim Erickson, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "This gives us the best opportunity to determine where the short is."
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