Friday, March 08, 2013

Weird tales from the red planet

 Things are going a bit pear-shaped up in space. Or on Mars, to be a little bit more precise.

NASA’s Curiosity Rover has been pootling around on the surface of the Red Planet since August last year, sieving soil, hammering rocks, drilling holes and brushing up the dust afterwards.

Looking dangerous: Mars Curiosity Rover
Not to mention taking some rather attractive panoramic holiday snaps of the surrounding landscape when it has a moment or two to itself.

Or at least it was until last Thursday, when it threw the interplanetary equivalent of a massive wobbly and stopped in its tracks.

Understandable, really: there is only so much DIY a 2,000lb six-wheeled scientific dune buggy can do without needing a sit-down and a cup of tea.

The boffins at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory were having none of that. They logged straight into the computer systems on the stubborn little gizmo, worked out that there had been a crash, and put it into something called “safe mode”, which basically means that Curiosity stops all of its scientific investigations and sits there quietly waiting for someone back on Earth to work out what is wrong with it.

Weird or what?
Although it does make you wonder what would happen if they pushed the wrong button and accidentally sent it into dangerous mode.

 Wild parties with luscious five-legged Martian lovelies?

Drag races across the arid plains of Gale Crater against rolling balls of prickly, sentient Venusian tumbleweed?

Titanic pincer-to-pincer battles against malevolent crab-like fungoid entities from the dark planet Yuggoth?

Sounds like someone has been reading too many weird tales by HP Lovecraft. Or eating too much cheese before bedtime. Or indeed both.

Because putting a Mars Rover into safe mode is really no different from what all of us do when the computer fouls up.

The advice of endless magazines, of spotty lads in computer shops and of husbands who would rather be having a kip works for both, and really is the only solution: turn it off, and turn it back on again.

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