Jun 19, 2019 | Updated: 09:31 AM EDT

Short Circuit Leaves Curiosity with One Arm

Mar 04, 2015 10:40 PM EST

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Curiosity Rover Selfie
(Photo : NASA)

NASA has announced that the Mars Curiosity Rover now just has one arm, due to a short circuit that happened while the rover was attempting to retrieve a sample.  Unfortunately, the nuclear-powered space tank is most likely going to suffer with its disability indefinitely.

According to NASA, the problem occurred at the end of February when the rover was transferring rock powder it had collected with the help of its arm drill to the laboratory instruments that are located inside the rover. During the operation, NASA received a signal from the rover that a transient short circuit happened.  When this occurred, it caused Curiosity to follow its programming and stop the activity of the arm where it sensed the power irregularities. 

For now, NASA is giving Curiosity a break, as they try to assess the situation and figure out exactly what went wrong.  Once they figure out what happened, they will then determine if it can be fixed.  Until then, the rover's arm and the motors that power it are being carefully examined by NASA. Jim Erickson, the project manager for Curiosity, revealed that he and his team are running tests on the rover in its present configuration before they move on to the arm or the drive.

"We are running tests on the vehicle in its present configuration before we move the arm or drive," Erickson says. "This gives us the best opportunity to determine where the short is."

NASA researchers stated that it was not the first time the Curiosity arm was used to transfer soil samples to its internal laboratory.  In fact, the rover had performed the operation five times. The space agency maintains that the short circuit would have causes very little damage to the rover if it had occurred on its other systems. The arm, however, is a different story.  It is not yet known if the arm can be repaired remotely or even what caused the short circuit to occur in the first place.

The Curiosity rover was first launched on November 26, 2011 and landed on Mars on August 6, 2012.  Its goals include the investigation of the climate and the geology of Mars, assessing the field site to determine if it has ever offered favorable conditions for microbial life and studying planetary habitability in preparation for human exploration in the future. 

It is possible that nothing is wrong with the rover and operations could resume as usual.  But, until NASA performs all its checks, scientists won't be sure.  In the end the team may have to restrict the use of certain instruments on the rover as it continues its exploration.

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