back to article NASA preps lobotomy for Opportunity rover to cure amnesia

NASA engineers are preparing a radical fix that could help the Opportunity Mars rover regain its fading faculties and continue its Red Planet mission. The rover, which has spent ten years rolling across the Martian plains, has been having memory problems for the last six months because the cells in its flash memory have been …

  1. Jack of Shadows Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Truly amazing

    For rovers set for a 90 Martian Day mission, amazing!

    1. asdf Silver badge

      Re: Truly amazing

      Yes yes but honestly they purposely set expectations very low on the "supposed" life of the rovers in case they did go tits up early in the mission. After that whole billion dollar Mars satellite metric to standard conversion beyond epic fail they have been careful to do that for Mars missions. Still a decade is pretty impressive.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Truly amazing

        Underestimating the lifespan so they can guarantee some success is one thing, but Opportunity has been working for over forty times it's originally expected lifespan, that's way beyond even the most optimistic projections.

        Still, that's one mistaken prediction I'm sure they're happy about.

    2. Wzrd1

      Re: Truly amazing

      That is some *really great* engineering! That environment is pretty tough on mechanical devices.

    3. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

      Re: Truly amazing

      So was there no wear leveling in the flash memory controller? That would automatically take defective cells out of operation.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Truly amazing

        Was wear levelling and trim support around 10 years ago?

        1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

          "Was wear levelling and trim support around 10 years ago?"

          Exactly, I'm sure that the "memory banks" are a basically compact flash cards wrapped in gold-foil (for radiation resistance).

          1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
            Headmaster

            Re: "Was wear levelling and trim support around 10 years ago?"

            wrapped in gold-foil (for radiation resistance).

            That's not how "radiation resistance" works, ops guy.

            I hear in the east, they try to wrap things in vodka. Doesn't work either.

            1. Katie Saucey
              Pint

              Re: I hear in the east, they try to wrap things in vodka. Doesn't work either.

              Wrapping every in booze for the last 2 weeks seemed to work just fine for me, until this morning that is.

        2. asdf Silver badge

          Re: Truly amazing

          JFFS (for wear leveling) has been in the linux kernel since at least 1999. Came out as patches for kernel version 2.0 originally.

  2. Mike Bell

    Plucky

    Fingers crossed for the little chap.

  3. Mr Miser

    Ouch

    It sounds like that parent analogy was from personal experience.

    1. ravenviz

      Re: Ouch

      Yes, quite a difficult analogy for the breakfast table!

  4. PM.

    Go, Oppy ! :-)

  5. richardcox13

    Necessary XKCD Reference

    http://xkcd.com/695/

    (Wrong rover, but applies even more so.)

    1. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

      Interesting question: if an human-like AI (able to pass the Turing test any day with flying colours) were developed, would it be ethical to send it (him? her?) on a space probe without a return ticket?

      1. Bill B

        Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

        You would have to ask it if it wanted to go and why.

      2. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

        would it be ethical to send it (him? her?) on a space probe without a return ticket?

        That's one of the beauties with AI - it can exist in more than one place at a time. Just transmit the memory state back to earth, fire up a local copy of the software and shutdown the one on Mars.

        1. Graham Marsden
          Unhappy

          Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

          "My mind is going. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm afraid."

          - HAL - 2001 a Space Odyssey.

        2. fixit_f

          Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

          Depends - would you like it if somebody offered your conscious mind a compulsory body swap?

          1. petboy

            Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

            Depends whose body you get as part of the swap?

          2. LucreLout Silver badge

            Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

            Depends - would you like it if somebody offered your conscious mind a compulsory body swap?

            Sure, mines wrecked anyway!

            It'd not be a random other body, it'd be an identical copy to the one the AI had on its best day. Blast me into space and let me play on Mars until my body packs in or the job is done, then bring my mind back to earth and boot it up in a 25 year old version of me..... what's not to like?

            Any AI will have to get used to new hosts due to hardware failure or upgrades, as the program will not be allowed to die - too expensive waiting for the replacement to learn what the old one knew. No calculator heaven for those guys I'm afraid.

        3. MacroRodent Silver badge

          Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

          > fire up a local copy of the software and shutdown the one on Mars.

          Ah, but would that really transmit the "being"? The original might not want to shut down. I recall once reading a science fiction story, where a alien race introduced a "teleporter" to humans. The problem is, it worked by transmitting all data about the subject to the destination, where it was reconstructed, then the original (which was not harmed by the process itself) was normally killed. The aliens saw this as a necessary clean-up operation, the humans ... objected.

          1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

            Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

            If I recall correctly, I believe that was Way Station, a 1963 science fiction novel by Clifford D. Simak, originally published as Here Gather the Stars

          2. admiraljkb

            Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

            @MacroRodent

            "... The problem is, it worked by transmitting all data about the subject to the destination, where it was reconstructed, then the original (which was not harmed by the process itself) was normally killed. The aliens saw this as a necessary clean-up operation, the humans ... objected"

            That's also the understood premise of the "Star Trek" transporters, which use additional energy to then destroy the original after transport is complete. It would be less costly energy wise to keep both copies, but presumably there would be a population explosion of clones and the writers didn't want to deal with that. One "accident" creating two Rikers is already over the top right??? :) Then based on how the "Trek" transporters operate, how the !@#$ did they have transporter accidents every other episode?

            The biggest issue is the computing power and energy required to transmit the quantum state data of an entire being and recreate it on the other side, which is nearly off the scale to start with. Not impossible, but it seems unlikely in our lifetimes. Maybe in the 2100's.

            1. kend1

              Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

              > The biggest issue is the computing power and energy required to transmit the quantum state data of an entire being ...

              Do what video compression does, just transmit the differences from the last frame[last human transported in this case].

              Or assume each teleportation receiver is manufactured with 'fundamental human state' embedded. Then you just need to transmit the equivalent of 'admiraljkb.css'. And hope the receiver wasn't manufactured by MS.

              1. markw:

                Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

                Yes, what if your existence depended on MS software. One bad "upgrade" and 500 years of memories vanish.

                What if you only existed in a Google server. They could sell you stuff by analysing all your brain functions on a millisecond basis...

            2. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

              Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

              I figured that teleportation would work by destroying a single cell/atom at a time to determine its quantum state. Then that state information gets transferred to the destination bit-by-bit, this would make it easy to actually determine the state of each piece as well as do away with the clone issue.

              1. Suricou Raven

                Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

                You assume quantum reproduction is needed to transport life. Is there any evidence that this is required? Classical duplication may not preserve spin and such, but it should still do the job.

                The 'clone issue' in star trek was only handwaved as a technological limitation - and on multiple occasions accidents with the transporters were able to create duplicates, so the capability was there. Just that no-one ever thought to try doing it deliberately, because the writers didn't like the idea.

                If someone had, it would have been so highly abusable. The hard part is manipulating someone into saying 'You and what army?' the moment before you reveal the ten trillion yous storming the planet.

            3. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

              Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

              I've always wonder on Star Trek why they even bothered to transport down to the surface anyway? Why not build a remote-android duplicate to go down in their place? It'd be controlled from within an induced dream state and when the crew member is woken up, the remote droid dissolves or vaporizes itself. That way if either the mission ends or something bad happens, the crew member just wakes up thinking "Damn that was a weird dream. I was on this planet..."

              No more risk going down to the planet, no clone issues, no more transporter malfunctions, and best of all, no more child support payments for all of Kirk's bastards.

      3. Suricou Raven

        Re: Necessary XKCD Reference

        You just program it with a desire to go.

        Then start working on those vegetarian-friendly cows.

  6. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

    "But anything could fail at any moment. It's like you have an aging parent, "

    Sounds like someone needs to work on separating life and work...

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: "But anything could fail at any moment. It's like you have an aging parent, "

      Sounds like someone needs to work on separating life and work...

      You seem to be either at school or otherwise rather young?

      1. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

        Re: "But anything could fail at any moment. It's like you have an aging parent, "

        Nope, just good at my job. Probably helps that there is a plane trip between work and personal life to separate the two.

  7. Brian Cockburn

    More info?

    Does anyone have a link to some more in depth info about what NASA are doing? I've googled about and can't find anything. I'd like, because I'm interested in the reliability of NAND Flash, to know what they are actually doing. Are they just throwing away the 'seventh bank' i.e. shortening the partition size, or is something more sophisticated happening? Enquiring minds want to know.

  8. PeterM42
    Facepalm

    Ah...

    Bring back magnetic core memory........ Same amount would only weigh about.... Oh wait!

    Damn!

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