Curiosity Memory Issue, Possibly Caused By Cosmic Rays

I saw this over the weekend on

The computer problem is related to a glitch in flash memory on the A-side computer caused by corrupted memory files, Cook said. Scientists are still looking into the root cause the corrupted memory, but it’s possible the memory files were damaged by high-energy space particles called cosmic rays, which are always a danger beyond the protective atmosphere of Earth.

“The hardware that we fly is radiation tolerant,” Cook told, “but there’s a limit to how hardened it can be. You can still get high-energy particles that can cause the memory to be corrupted. It certainly is a possibility and that’s what we’re looking into.”

I found this interesting because I’ve been trying to put some thoughts together about computing within the URS storyworld. Obviously, computing between now and when colonization is supposed to take place would change drastically, certainly as much I think as it has in the last fifty years. So then, why would the Republican Star Cluster have computers that resemble what we have today?

The answer that I’ve come up with is that computing on Earth is actually relatively advanced. There’s quantum computing, biological computing, etc. Except that, with biological computing especially, the cosmic radiation would essentially kill them despite the shielding on the ships themselves. Hence the reason why solid state computers like the ones we use are still used out there.

I find it interesting that a stray cosmic ray could corrupt memory in this way. But I suppose it makes sense. At the end of the day, chips are essentially pathways for electrons and a wave of radiation could easily knock and electron off course, corrupting the data involved.

Needless to say, this could create a really neat situation for a story, in which a ship in transit encounters something like this. I also would have to assume that this would be a relatively common occurrence for ships within the Unified Republic of Stars if an exploration robot within our own solar system encounters this and interstellar travel is common in this storyworld.

What effects do you think a traveler might encounter? Sudden shutdown of a computer system? Dropping out of FTL unexpectedly? What about more disastrous effects?