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NASA's Curiosity Rover on Mars Sidelined by Glitch
A selfie taken by NASA's Mars rover Curiosity on Vera Rubin Ridge, a landform in the foothills of Mount Sharp.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has temporarily halted science operations because of a glitch, mission team members announced today (Sept. 19).

The mysterious issue, which cropped up Saturday night (Sept. 15), prevents the rover from beaming to Earth much of the science and engineering information stored in its memory, Curiosity project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, wrote in an update today.

But Curiosity remains otherwise healthy, he said. For example, the rover can still relay real-time data about its status. [Photos: Spectacular Mars Vistas by NASA's Curiosity Rover]

"Engineers are expanding the details the rover transmits in these real-time data to better diagnose the issue," Vasavada wrote. "Because the amount of data coming down is limited, it might take some time for the engineering team to diagnose the problem."

The rover team has turned off all of Curiosity's science instruments while engineers investigate the glitch. Mission team members are also preparing to fire up the rover's backup computer, in case they need it to diagnose the issue with the main computer, Vasavada wrote.

The backup, which is identical to the main computer, has proved its mettle before. It served as Curiosity's primary computer for the rover's first 200 sols on the Red Planet before experiencing issues of its own, which have since been fixed, Vasavada noted. (A "sol," or Martian day, is about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day.)

While mission engineers work on the current problem, the Curiosity science team will study the data the rover has already gathered at Vera Rubin Ridge, in the foothills of Mars' 3.4-mile-high (5.5 kilometers) Mount Sharp.

Some rocks in this area have proved exceptionally hard, complicating several previous Curiosity drilling attempts.

"We're looking at any clues that tell us the rocks are weaker and better for drilling," Vasavada wrote.

Curiosity landed inside Mars' 96-mile-wide (154 km) Gale Crater in August 2012. During its six-plus years of operation, the rover has found lots of evidence that the Red Planet could have supported microbial life in the ancient past. For example, Curiosity's observations have revealed that, billions of years ago, Gale Crater hosted long-lived lake-and-stream systems.

Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook or Google+. Originally published on Space.com.