According to the report of NASA, the Mars rover Curiosity has suffered intermittent short circuits in its robotic arm which may hamper its drilling of rocks. The problem surfaced on Feb. 27 when a surge of current was observed by the sensors of the rover. Following this, the rover automatically stopped functioning and waited to receive further commands from Earth. Curiosity was shaking a sample of rock powder in order to prepare it for delivering it to an onboard chemical laboratory, when the problem appeared. The rover had followed the same procedure during five previous drilling efforts in 2013 and 2014 and no problem cropped up then.
The rover experienced no problems during its first test after the power surge. During the second test the drill repeated the up-and-down motion 180 times and during the third stroke a small surge occurred, lasting a fraction of a second. James K. Erickson, the project manager, stated that the most probable location of the short circuit is in the coil which generates magnetic fields for moving a striker which then hammers the drill.
The problem, however, posed no threats to the $2.5 billion mission and as the next step the engineers will be repeating the test so that the extent of severity can be determined properly. Mr. Erickson commented “If the surges of current are small enough, we might feel comfortable with just using it until it stops moving.” Even if the hammering mechanism failed, the drill would still continue its work but might become unable to penetrate harder rocks.
Other parts of the rover have not been affected and are working well. Presently Curiosity is at the base of an 18,000-foot-tall mountain. The rocks in that region are composed of layers of sediments, dating to an era when Mars was probably warm and wet. By gradually climbing up the mountain, the rover is expect to provide information about the changes in rocks that may help the scientists to understand the changes which occurred in the climate of Mars, over time.