Curiosity Mars Roundup: Update Lets Rover Drive & Obama Gives High Five

08.13.12 David Lumb

Curiosity cooled its heels on Friday after a busy week, enjoying a lazy weekend while NASA & JPL beamed a software update to the Mars rover that essentially switches it from “intense skycrane landing mode” to “drive around this barren frontier mode.” The update will also allow the rover to use its geochemistry lab’s sampling system–but why did the Curiosity need an update at all, the LA Times asked:

The update had to wait until after 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.”

President Obama called the Pasadena-based JPL, the team responsible for everything Curiosity, to give them an “interplanetary fist bump” for firing a 1-ton payload 150 million miles to land safely with a maneuver never attempted outside Earth’s atmosphere. It landed 1.5 miles off-target, but well within the 12-mile landing ellipse. By comparison, 2004’s Spirit and Opportunity had a 93-mile ellipse.

Obama praised the lab while swearing to uphold his commitment to science education, then asked the country’s top space roaming nerds to keep an eye out for Martians, even if they’re just microbes. “It’s really what makes us best as a species – the curiosity we have, learning to discover, the pushing boundaries of knowledge,” Obama said–which sounds political, but I can’t possibly be cynical when our president wants more space.

(Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech)