NASA executes 350-Million-Mile interplanetary software patch on Mars space robot. What'd you do today?

This week the team at NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory finished "what amounted to a complete overhaul of the Curiosity Rover’s software," from 350 million miles away on another planet. Ben Cichy, Curiosity’s chief software engineer, explained to Wired News that the software required to help Curiosity land on the surface of Mars and the software it needs to drive around and avoid obstacles are different. The system "didn’t have enough memory to hold the software for both the landing mission and the surface mission, so the software had to be swapped out remotely after landing." The upgrade took four days, not unlike, say, Windows Server 8.


  1. While certainly very very impressive, I would bet there are some readers out there who may have saved a life today… I might place that a little higher than this.

  2. Not enough memory?!? That thing is the size of a car, sure you have room for some extra chips. Amateurish decision in an otherwise fantastic accomplishment.

    1.  Sheesh, read something about the matter before you start berating those 3000 experts that have worked on the Curiosity for the last 7 years. It’s not like they can go to Walmart and buy some thumbdrives to hold data in there.

      1. The radiation hardened, impact hardened, temperature hardened, spec’ed out and thoroughly vetted in 2006 kind.

    1. On the surface it certainly does seem like some one could’ve bought a couple 64 GB thumb drives and solved this problem before launch, but there must be a more complicated reason…. right?

        1. Ah, so the memory being used is ‘special’ because it is built to withstand temperatures (and radiation) we don’t have here on Earth? Cool!

          1.  Temperature, radiation, vacuum and billion other factors. Anything that gets sent to space needs to be thoroughly tested, so well in fact that any stuff that gets sent there is by default years old and needs to be stuff that doesn’t get broken in extreme conditions. Just flapping a few thumbdrives there and thinking they’ll survive the trip is utterly naive way of thought. Any new tech like processors with tiny line widths, memories that stuff loads of stuff into a space of a fingernail would probably get fried once they leave the protective magnetosphere of Earth.


        “It comes with just 120 megabytes of RAM. But like the other electronics components on Curiosity Rover the RAD750 has one thing going for it: It’s tough enough to withstand launch-time shaking, wild temperature fluctuations and levels of ionizing radiation that would fry the machine that you’re using to read this story.”

  3. Curiosity team just did an AMA on Reddit.

    Included the morning playlist thus far: (comment link:

    Yup! She tends to be less cranky with a good wakeup song. 
    Sol 2: “Good Morning Good Morning” Beatles, Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club
    Sol 3: “Good morning, good morning” from Singing in the Rain.
    Sol 5: Wagner “The ride of the valkyries” R10 Victory Song: Theme from “Mission Impossible”
    Sol 6: “Got the Time” by Anthrax, and “Echelon” by 30 Seconds to Mars
    Sol 7: The Doors – “Break on Through”, and George Harrison – “Got My Mind Set on You”
    Sol 8: Theme from Star Wars by John Williams
    Sol 9: Wake Up Little Susie by Simon and Garfunkel
    Sol 10: Frank Sinatra “Come Fly with me”

  4. This is so amazing. Out of all the BS in the news these days that no one is going to remember, this truly stands out. 

    When Barack Obama’s name is only known by historians and the first great economic collapse of the early 21st century isn’t known by anyone, people will still be telling the story of human beings first explorations of other planets, and of the first time we discovered extra-terrestrial life…

    1.  They’ll probably remember the first black prez, don’t ya think?  And it’s not the first, by a long chalk.  It’s the biggest and baddest and best equipped, but nowhere near the first.

      1. I don’t know… everybody thinks that Jackie Robinson was the first black baseball player, but really he was only the first one after they kicked all the black players out 60 years earlier.

        Some southern states sent majority black delegations to the US congress  during reconstruction, and some of them gave absolutely ripping speeches on the floor, but nobody remembers them. I read one that gave me goosebumps (in print, after 150 years!) about 5 years ago, but I can’t remember his name.

        I would guess that Obama will have similar name recognition to other major world leaders of unexpected backgrounds. If he’s lucky, he’ll have as much name recognition as Constantine; for example, can you name the first of the Black African Pharaohs? It was a big deal at the time and I even remember reading about it in National Geographic at some point, but I couldn’t tell you guy’s name. 


        In future, the rovers will all probably be lumped together under the header of First Unmanned Explorations. This mission, much more than any other so far, is capable of giving us the highlight of the “Unmanned Explorations” chapter, which is to say, the discovery of extra-terrestrial life.

  5. When I first glanced at the headline I thought it said “NASA executes 350-Millionth interplanetary software patch” and I thought: can’t they hire some better programmers?

    1. Well an app was crashing my cell phone, so I reinstalled it… yup.
      Anyway, what’s this Mars thing y’all are talking about?

  6. I went down to the Ecuadorian embassy and protested my government’s actions.  Where the heck was Cory?

    Anyway, this is very cool.

  7. So now I’m left wondering, does Curiosity have any sort of firewall which would prevent interplanetary malware from being installed?  I’m thinking maybe a Venusian Virus that remotely deflates the rover’s tires, or a Jovian Trojan Horse that hijack’s Curiosity’s X-band transceiver to spam the inner planets with offers to increase the size and sensitivity of one’s reproductive tentacular appendages.

    1.  no, pretty sure it’s wide open.  Just type
      > telnet 
      (there’s no password)

  8. Sprint decided my year-old Android 3.2 phone should update to Android 4.0 last night. I like to think it was in homage to Curiosity.

  9. If the firmware upgrade failed, does Opportunity roll over, stick a paperclip in Curiosity & spit out a stream mumbled space curses for about 10 seconds?

  10. Well since you asked Xeni, I upgraded the firmware on a  $300,000+ piece of hardware today. If the upgrade had failed, I would have had to walk over 50 meters, through a camlocked door, and around a guy on a ladder to fix it. 

    Good thing it didn’t come to that. ;) 

    P.S. No, it was not a router!

  11. Actually, NASA works in metric, now, so it’s a 1/2 million kilometre patch. And still awesome.

  12. Why everyone is questioning their decision not to cram more memory in there? Even if they did, why would they keep software used for landing? There’s no use for it anymore, just a junk code.

    Apart from memory being a wee bit different than that of which you put in your computers you keep forgetting that every gram of additional weight adds to the cost as they have to put a lot more fuel in the rocket itself to push the damn thing that far. 

    Besides, Shuttles used computers with 64kB of RAM and worked great. It’s not Microsoft and Visual Basic we are talking here. These people actually know what they are doing… so there’s no real need to waste resources and money on things like this, especially considering how tight NASA budget now is.

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