Mars Express Gets A Software Update After 19 Years Of Service

Can you believe a Martian spacecraft has been running a system based on Windows 98 architecture more than a decade after most of us abandoned the operating system?

Engineers were likely quite grateful to send a remote software update to the long-running Mars Express mission, which is showing just how well such software can perform if you treat it properly — even in the most difficult of environments. It’s been working at Mars since December 2003.

The upgrade will benefit the mission’s liquid water hunter, more officially known as the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding, or MARSIS. (The Red Planet has reservoirs of water underneath its surface, standing in contrast to its dusty, radiation-soaked surface.)

The upgrade will increase the science this already powerful instrument performs, ESA said in a statement. “The new software allows us to switch MARSIS on for five times as long and explore a much larger area with each pass,” Andrea Cicchetti, MARSIS deputy principal investigator and operation manager at Italy’s National Institute of Astrophysics, who led the development of the upgrade .

Cicchetti said it’s like having a brand-new instrument in operation at afar. Regions will be studied at even higher resolution, and it is probable that MARSIS will find more sources of liquid water as a result.

The mission also keeps an eye on regions that may have had water in the past, contributing more data to our quest to better understand Martian history and its climate over billions of years. A recent image of Aonia Terra, an upland region in the southern highlands of Mars, found channels that likely passed through a crater something like 3.5 billion years ago, for example.

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