NASA gives Curiosity Mars rover its first major software update

An update uploaded to the mobile laboratory as it was en route from Earth to Mars was installed over the weekend, to help Curiosity carry out its experiments and not bump into things

NASA's Curiosity rover had its first major software update over the weekend, making the mobile laboratory more suited to its life on the Martian surface.

The switchover took place between Friday and Monday, installing software that had been uploaded to Curiosity during its flight from Earth to Mars . The older software gave Curiosity basic navigational capabilities, but not enough for the rover to carry out its task: finding out whether the Red Planet has ever been habitable.

Mars surface
Martian landscape, shot by Curiosity Image credit: NASA

"We designed the mission from the start to be able to upgrade the software as needed for different phases of the mission," the mission's chief software engineer, Ben Cichy, said in a statement. "The flight software version Curiosity currently is using was really focused on landing the vehicle. It includes many capabilities we just don't need any more."

The new software's image processing capabilities will help Curiosity avoid obstacles as it trundles around the surface, and also let the rover use the drill and scoop at the end of its arm.

NASA's Curiosity team has been looking at the images sent back by the rover so far, to try to figure out which features are particularly worth exploring.

Once the vehicle is a bit closer to each rock feature, it can further evaluate the rock's composition with a laser device, before going over to drill out samples for analysis.