Spirit Sol 13

[This might be confusing: egress happened on sol 12, not sol 13, but since my shifts crossed the sol-midnight boundary, I kept my notes based on the sol we were planning -- in this case, sol 13. It all starts to sync up in a less confusing way when we get into the routine of planning, post-egress.]

I don't get much sleep, but tonight is egress, so I don't care. I get there at 11:30, a little later than I really wanted to, but in time.

Just as I arrive, I meet Kurt Schwehr, who asks if RSVP can produce animations. Boy, do I have great timing. It turns out that Kurt intends to record RSVP simulating the pre-egress turn, so that they can show it at the press conference. At the moment, he doesn't need our new feature where we write our animation to a file -- he's under time pressure and just wants to use the existing animation features, and just needs a little help figuring them out -- but he's interested in the new stuff and wants to hear more about it. Score!

I go to the SMSA, hide in the back, and listen in as the flight director, Chris Lewicki, polls the subsystems. Everyone is go for launch -- especially the mech guys, Kevin Burke and Chris Voorhees, who answer the flight director in unison: "Mech is GO FOR EGRESS!" They played "Rawhide" ("Rollin', rollin', rollin'") and told Spirit to take a walk. Then we waited.

For an hour and a half. So to kill the time, Ralph Roncoli and I start talking about the VP visit yesterday. I tell him about how I accidentally ended up being part of the presentation machinery, and how useless I was -- Jennifer was standing right next to me when she said to start the movie, and she was even pointing at the button I clicked to start it. All she would have had to do is (and I demonstrate) bend slightly to the right, and her index finger would have clicked the button and I would have been entirely superfluous. (Although, to my own credit, I did also fast-forward through part of it so that the movie wouldn't drag too much, and that requires two fingers.)

Squyres is standing next to me, listening to me tell this story, and he's laughing, but he points out that when your audience is the Vice President, even not having to worry about pressing one button is a comfort. That's a good point.

There's still an hour before anything will happen, so I walk back to my office to write documentation. I'm trying to learn a lesson from landing night: if you're not there, they can't throw you out. Even though they're not being as fascist now, I don't want to miss this. I return a couple of minutes before egress confirmation is due.

Nothing. It was supposed to take an hour and a half. It's now been an hour and a half, and ... nothing.

Lewicki reminds us that even getting carrier from the spacecraft is a good thing. If we screwed up the egress, a carrier will tell us that Spirit is alive, that we have a chance to fix whatever's wrong.

Minutes tick by. Spirit is, I'm telling you, a drama queen.

"Carrier in lock," comes the report, and the place erupts. But we're shushed almost immediately. Spirit is alive, that's good, but we don't know where she is yet. She might be upside down for all we know.

More agonizing seconds. We get a report that the tilt high-water-mark measurement is about what we expected -- a little high, maybe, but in range. Looks like Spirit went down an incline of just about the right angle. More cheering and clapping. Then we get the odometer readings: we've moved about 2.5 meters, just as expected. So everyone knows the answer already, but when Justin puts up the picture, it's a madhouse. Pandemonium.

Spirit is looking back at the lander. And at her own tracks in the dirt. She's on Mars.

The delay, it turns out later, is because Spirit got a small bump coming off the lander and lost track of exactly where she was. She had to search for the sun to establish her location well enough to phone home. Or that's her story. My explanation: she's a drama queen. And that's all right. As long as she keeps working this well, she can be a drama queen, for all I care. Go, baby.

Much partying ensues, with champagne, even. Pete Theisinger trades his usual dress shirt for a "My other vehicle is on Mars" T-shirt. I get my picture taken with Sofi Collis, the little girl who named the rovers, and realize that I'm much more excited about this than about getting my picture taken with the Vice President. I'm relieved to realize that. I'm still me.

There's a press conference at 2AM (delayed to 3AM, as it happens), so we all troop over there. I'm with Nagin and Jeff. We actually get seats. The press conference is a weird affair: a dozen exhausted journalists and a hundred triumphant geeks.

It's weird for another reason, too. I occasionally find these post-success press conferences embarrassing, and I realize that it's because they resemble the Oscars -- it seems like everyone is just thanking everyone else, sometimes to the point of tedium. But there's a difference between this and the Oscars, I think, a significant one. My sense of the Oscars is that most of the winners (if you can call them that) are heaping praise on others as a way of heaping praise on themselves, an unctuous, insincere, false humility. Whether that's true of them or not, I know the people here, and there's nothing insincere about them. When they thank others, it's a genuine recognition of their own limits, genuine admiration and gratitude.

During the press conference, they play the RSVP animation Kurt recorded, and I realize that Ashitey gave him the data -- stitched together by those scripts I wrote on sols 1 and 2, when I totally thought I was wasting my time. Sometimes it's nice to be wrong. This is great, our software getting an international audience. It's better than being famous.

My favorite line from the press conference is Joel Krajewski's: "There is life on Mars," he says, "and we put it there."

The press conference ends a little before 4AM. I was supposed to be on shift about 3:35. My first real day of work, and I'm already fifteen minutes late. Well, the only one there before me is Frank, and he's already looking at the lander image in stereo mode. I put on the goggles to see for myself. Damn, that's a beautiful thing to see.

Squyres walks by. Mindful that this is the culmination of sixteen years of work for him, I grab him and tell him he needs to see something. He puts on the stereo goggles, leans in, and just sits there, staring back at the lander. As he takes off the goggles he's emotional. "You know," he says to nobody in particular, almost to himself, "we are gonna take spectacular vistas and beautiful panoramas. But we are never gonna take a picture that means more to me than that one right there." He walks back out into the hallway.

Science is already on the move. The downlink assessment meeting has a lot to talk about, going over the images Spirit has sent back from her new location. "The PANCAM is such a beautiful instrument," Arvidson says, "I think if we get full-res uncompressed images we'll faint."

The region they want to get those images of has been christened "Pebble Flats." They've marked a couple of targets for us, places where we can safely exercise the microscopic imager, MB, and APXS for the first time while getting some decent science out of it. It turns out to be harder to select such targets than you might think: for this checkout, we need an area that's all soil and no rock, and there are so many pebbles here that it's hard to find a good spot. Two of the candidate targets are in compressed regions of the image, so we can't even be sure that they're really clean. But we've got one good safe candidate, and Eric Baumgartner, who's doing all the real work for the first couple of days, is down in the testbed verifying his sequences will be OK with it.

While in the meeting, I realize something. I didn't know exactly what to tell the LA Times reporter when he asked how smart the rover was, but I do now. This rover is unimaginably smart. It's as smart as the hundred or so scientists in this room, combined, plus the engineers and managers who make it work every day. It's literally true, a thought that chills me a little. We are this rover's brain cells. We are its personality. We are this rover.

Another rock is named: a broad pyramid has been dubbed Adirondack. It's the likely destination for our first drive. Only about 3.5 meters away and with a nice flat face, it should be a great chance for us to exercise the RAT[1]. There's also a region named for the desert planet that's the central setting of Frank Herbert's book "Dune": Arrakis. They also announce that they're going to give a copy of the Panorama to Sofi, signed by any project member who wants to sign it. I sign it.

They're going to do some other science while we sit here checking out the arm for a few days. Some atmospheric science is in the queue; they'll retake some PANCAM and MTES images that had low signal-to-noise ratios because they were taken at low temperatures; they'll analyze some of the aeolian drifts to see what features are real and what are photometric. But the critical stuff is the IDD. Eric's stuff.

Eric is stressed, incredibly stressed. The success we've had so far has had one unintended consequence: it's making everyone very careful. Nobody wants to be the first to screw up. So people are checking, rechecking, re-rechecking, even more than we have been, and Eric is no exception. But he's been working on the outlines of his sequences for weeks, waiting only for the targeting information, and now that he has that he completes the rest, checking his work a hundred different ways, and leaves content. He's sure it will work.

And it would have, except for one thing. After he leaves, we get updated data from Mobility/IDD, showing that we're not oriented exactly the way we thought we were. The difference is slight, very slight, but it's enough to screw up Eric's careful work. Bob Bonitz ends up reconfiguring the IDD to get the job done, and he and Jeff Biesiadecki make it with literally five minutes to spare. But they make it.

But the worst of that wasn't known until after Frank and I had left. Frank and I hang around for about an hour after our shift is over, mostly just to be there, and partly to ensure that nobody deletes the commands we'd added. We'd checked out Eric's commands and discovered that he hadn't disabled the flaky APXS contact switches, which is something we need to do during most IDD operations. We're pretty sure they're disabled already, but we want to be certain, so we check out the telemetry. As expected, the telemetry shows that both switches are disabled already, so we don't need to send commands to disable them. Then we realize that that means that we can disable them without hurting anything. There are two switches, so Frank adds the command to disable one and I add the command to disable the other. Holy smoke, I'm a rover driver now.

I go home and go to sleep, tired but happy, with ten whole hours before I need to wake up again.

Less than 40 minutes later, my cell phone rings. At first I think it's the alarm, that it's time to get up, but the display on the front is showing that I missed a call. I don't recognize the number. Somehow I pull myself together enough to return the call, and it turns out it's Matt Keuneke. They're having some kind of problem with RoSE, my software, but I can't understand his explanation. I'm also not very nice to him, because my brain isn't working. At this point I don't even really know who he is, or where I am; I'm just not functioning at all. My mouth tries to suggest an approach to solving the problem, and while I'm doing this the problem magically fixes itself on their end. Later I consider the possibility that they lied to me to get me off the phone, but I talk to them about it and no, that really did happen. We don't understand the behavior, but it's working now.

Uh-oh. Maybe RoSE is a drama queen, too.

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech. Six wheels on soil! Spirit looks back at her lander.

Me with Sofi Collis, who named Spirit and Opportunity.

Except that he's wearing a T-shirt, that guy looks just like Pete Theisinger!

After 16 years of effort, Steve Squyres is looking through the eyes of a rover whose wheels are on Mars.


[1] Rock Abrasion Tool, our drill.

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