Spirit Sol 10

I'm adjusting my schedule to the official times, so I arrive much too late for the downlink assessment meeting. And the SOWG meeting is boring, as usual.

Frank discovered that SEQGEN[1] wasn't working, so nobody can get power, data, or time modeling info. Therefore we can't tell whether we're fitting within the day's constraints. Therefore we can't do much safely. This won't be a problem until we egress, happily, but I want to fix it right away.

The problem doesn't really look like it's SEQGEN's fault, but I can't tell what the problem is, and it's working fine on three other identical servers. It turns out that they had the exact same problem when I was in London and fixed it by rebooting the server, which is morally wrong. But it's 4AM, and I don't have the right tools or the right people to fix it. So I have the SAs reboot the server, and it works (but I feel dirty, and not the good kind of dirty, either). But first I gather some evidence about the problem and send it to the SEQGEN developers, in case they can see something I don't. It will suck if this happens in ops. Which it will, oh, believe me, it will.

At the press briefings, I've noticed, they keep trying to explain the day's activities using a physical rover model. I pitch the idea (to the other RSVP developers) of having RSVP generate animations that they can use instead. RSVP already has all the pieces we need to build the animations, we just don't have that exact feature. Frank and Brian like the idea, so it looks like it will probably happen. They'll write out the individual frames of the movie, but not the movie itself, so I spend a little time writing a simple script to stitch the frames together into a movie. Once we have the movies built, we can use them not only at the press conference but on the Web site as well. This is gonna rule.

I'm now a whore. I went down to the von Karman newsroom and asked if they had anyone who wanted to talk to a rover driver. An LA Times reporter turned up in short order, and I spent a pleasant hour or so talking to him about the mission. Overall, I thought that went reasonably well, though the experience was a little weird. I made several mistakes, like not being quotable in several instances when I should have been and not being as well prepared as I should have been. But I'm not really worried about that; it's part of my learning style to do it wrong once so that I'll see how to do it right. (I do not intend to apply this learning style to the problem of driving on Mars.)

I wrote down all the questions I didn't know the answers to and found the answers later, so that I'll know them for next time. And I did an OK job with the sly, dangerous questions, like the one about whether Bush's man-on-Mars plan wasn't a "cockamamie" idea, and how do I think the Beagle 2 team feels, and who are the "glory hounds" on MER. (I don't blame the guy for doing his job, mind you, but thankfully I'm not quite dumb enough to fall for that.) I could have handled those better, but as it was I did okay. It helps to be dealing with relatively friendly media, though; I'm not sure I could handle someone who was out to get me yet. But it was my first time at this (isn't that what all whores say? :-), and I did okay.

And a few things I got really right. He asks me what a terrain mesh[2] is, and I explain it using the idea of draping a fishing net over the terrain and then taking away the terrain, and I see that he groks it right away. I think I just need to let my inner Carl Sagan talk more. I'll do better next time.

I didn't think he was all that interested in RSVP, but later he asked for a screen shot to include in the story. (Our software is more famous than your software, nyaah nyaah.)

He had already asked for a picture of me, and just as he left I heard him say something to the media reps about how he had been intending to get a picture of Brian, but he'd switched to me instead. Now, it's one thing to be a whore, it's another thing to steal business from the other whores. That's the kind of thing that can engender ill will. So when he calls later, I suggest that the photographer get a picture of the whole team, or at least more than just me. He likes the idea. Whew.

On my way out I run into Jim Erickson, one of the mission managers, so I ask him how Opportunity is doing. Jim looks worried (he always looks worried) and tells me that Opportunity's trajectory isn't quite as good as Spirit's was; they'll need to do a late TCM[3]. "Well, the nav team did a great job with Spirit," I say, "I'm sure they'll do great with Opportunity." He cocks one eye at me. "The stakes are higher now," he says.


[1] A venerable piece of JPL spacecraft sequencing/modeling software.

[2] The rovers send back multiple pairs of images of the terrain around them. We convert those pairs of images into a 3-D model -- a "terrain mesh" -- and stick that model into RSVP so that we can drive a simulated rover over it. I'd been explaining this process to the reporter.

[3] Trajectory Correction Maneuver. Jim's saying they'll need to nudge Opportunity's course a little so that she hits Mars at just the right place and comes in at just the right angle.

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