Software engineering provides the computing and commands necessary to operate the spacecraft and its subsystems. Below are examples of the way in which the Mars Science Laboratory mission benefits from past technological development and contributes new capabilities.
Like all spacecraft, the Mars Science Laboratory rover has a central computer that constantly monitors the health of the spacecraft, checks to make sure commands are being executed, and handles communications to and from Earth as well as to spacecraft orbiting Mars.
Like the Mars Exploration Rovers and the Pathfinder robotic missions, Mars Science Laboratory is able to steer clear of danger using navigation and hazard-avoidance software initially developed by the Mars Technology Program.
Each day, engineers on Earth send a sequence of computer instructions for the day's activities. Periodically, software experts will send upgrades, as they have done for the Mars Exploration Rovers. All software sequences are tested on Earth using surrogate rovers under similar conditions before being used on Mars.