NASA's Mars rover resumes work after computer glitch

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida Mon Mar 25, 2013 7:47pm EDT

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is pictured in this February 3, 2013 handout self-portrait obtained by Reuters February 9, 2013. REUTERS/NASA/Handout

NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is pictured in this February 3, 2013 handout self-portrait obtained by Reuters February 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/NASA/Handout

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA's Mars rover Curiosity resumed analysis of a sample of rock powder following a computer glitch that suspended operations for a week, scientists said on Monday.

Before the computer problem, results radioed back to Earth revealed that the rock, located near Curiosity's Gale Crater landing site, contains all the chemical ingredients necessary for microbial life, the over-arching goal of the planned two-year mission.

Scientists are eager for additional information about the rock sample, which was drilled out from what appears to be a slab of bedrock in an area known as Yellowknife Bay.

Curiosity automatically suspended its work on March 17 when it detected a problem with a computer data file. The glitch occurred as the rover was recovering from an earlier, unrelated computer problem.

The unplanned work hiatus ended over the weekend, NASA's deputy project manager Jim Erickson said.

"It's a slow recovery process, but we're back doing science," Erickson said.

Analysis of the rock powder will continue for about another week. Beginning April 4, radio communications between Earth and Mars will be blocked by the sun for a month, suspending most of the rover's science operations again.

When the planets re-align for communications after May 1, scientists plan to drill a second hole into the rock to verify the early results and look more closely for signs of organic carbon.

The $2.5 billion rover landed on Mars on August 6 to assess if the planet most like Earth has or ever had the chemical ingredients and environments for microbial life.

Scientists eventually plan to drive the rover to a 3-mile (5-km) high mound of what appears to be layered sediment rising from the floor of Gale Crater.

(Editing by Kevin Gray and Lisa Shumaker)

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