Mars Rover Gets Intergalactic Flash Memory Reset

Mars Rover OpportunityBreakingModern — Although it was built for a three-month mission on Mars, NASA’s Opportunity is still roaming the Red Planet more than 10 Earth years after its arrival. Recently it began having memory problems that adversely affected its work.

Opportunity uses flash memory to capture data about Mars and its surroundings to determine Mars’ history and current status. Over the past several months NASA reported more than a dozen memory incidents with each taking a day or two for recovery. After 10 years of use, it seems that some of the memory cells are starting to wear out.

The solution is simple: it’s time to reformat Opportunity’s flash memory. Reformatting clears the memory and can flag and isolate any bad cells that are causing the problem.

Intergalactic Reset

The implementation, however, was a bit more complex as the reformat would have to occur 54.6 million kilometers from Earth. But NASA has had experience with this type of reset because it was done on Spirit, Opportunity’s sister rover, about five years ago, before Spirit got stuck in the sand and experienced a premature death.

Just as with Earth-bound flash memory, the information on the drive must be backed up to a different place. Then the drive is reset and the data is reinstalled on the drive. NASA blogged that the interplanetary flash memory reformat on the Mars Rover was completed successfully. NASA wrote that,

“The Flash space available is slightly smaller (<1 percent) than before the reformat, consistent with the reformatting process flagging some bad cells to avoid.”

live space craft mars roverAfter the reset, Opportunity had what NASA called an “amnesia” event, where the rover was unable to mount its flash file storage system. That event was quickly overcome and within 10 days Opportunity resumed its normal work.

Reformat Your Flash

This story has one lesson that I would like to point out: Reformatting flash storage is something that everyone who owns a flash memory drive should consider doing occasionally. Whether it’s a response to degrading performance, as it was for Opportunity, or as a preventative measure, reformatting flash memory drives is a necessary task. Formatting a flash drive is quick and easy. It removes data from the drive, compresses files to free up space and, in some cases, even allows the user to add new, updated software to the drive.

This article also brings to light that although our current space program has been downsized, Opportunity continues to roam the Red Planet reporting on its surroundings, including taking spectacular panoramic pictures as well as observing comets and other remarkable outer-space events. It is currently doing close-up observations of a rock surface nicknamed “Hoover.” It has a long-term goal of reaching a zone called Marathon Valley, where there could be clay minerals that formed in water.


NASA provides Opportunity updates at its Mars Exploration Rovers blog. At the main Mars Exploration Rovers website there are plenty of pictures as well as information on the mission, the people, the science and the events. It’s pretty spectacular. Check it out. You may be amazed at these outer-space happenings.

For BMod, I’m Sandy Berger.

Image credits: NASA

Header image: Laser Cut Mars Topography by Jared Tarbell via Flickr Creative Commons

Sandy Berger

Author: Sandy Berger

Based in Pinehurst, North Carolina, Sandy Berger is a veteran tech journalist and reviews editor at covering tech tips and tricks, apps, gadgets, and consumer electronics. Follow @sandyberger on Twitter, +SandyBerger on Google+, and on Facebook.

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