NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is now less than eight days from an unprecedented visit to Pluto to help explore the more enigmatic features of the mini-planet, including the dark spots that wrap around most of its equatorial region.
The control center plans on Tuesday to send the final set of computer commands to NASA's New Horizon spacecraft, returning it to scientific operations that will last over the next week close approach to distant and unexplored Pluto.
On a spacecraft that traveled 3 billion miles toward the end of the solar system, and a nine-year journey to Pluto, a computer malfunction occurred over the weekend, which temporarily interrupted its radio communication with the Earth and all the scientific work associated with it.
As the project manager Glen Fountain told reporters at a conference on Monday, the spacecraft was compressing data from a solid-state drive in order to free up memory for downloading new operating instructions to the flash drive of the main computer. As a result, the processor was overloaded and the system crashed. The ship New Horizons switched to a backup computer and loaded itself into safe mode, waiting for further instructions from the control center on Earth. Gluck completely cut off on Saturday, radio communication with ground controllers at 81 minutes. This is not the first time that a spacecraft has entered safe mode. In practice, this is an automated step, which the ship takes as a precautionary measure, if it detects any work problems.
This time was very tense. New Horizons was ready to begin intensive nine-day observations of Pluto and its moon Charon, with the closest approach, scheduled for 7:49 am EDT on July 14th.
Gluck cost the New Horizons team about 30 planned observations, but it did not affect the main priorities of the mission - the study of the atmosphere of Pluto and the definition of what is under its surface (it is possible that there could be an ocean).
Alan Stern, lead researcher at New Horizons, from the Boulder Research Institute, Colorado, said: "For now we are waiting ... this is a speed bump in terms of the overall effect we are expecting from overflight."