Spirit Sol 14

To my genuine astonishment, everything went great yesterday. I never doubted Eric's carefully planned sequences, but we had to make enough changes to them at the last minute that I was sure we'd screw something up. We didn't.

None of the reports I need is quite ready yet, though, so I get a chance to go to the downlink assessment meeting for the first time in days. The scientists have a great big anaglyph of the lander-look HAZCAM hanging on the wall, and a stunningly detailed PANCAM image of Pebble Flats, each pixel representing half a millimeter. (The only finer-resolution pictures of Mars have just come down from the MI as I arrive, and PANCAM PUL Jim Bell teases the MI guys about this: "Until a couple of minutes ago, those PANCAM pictures were the best-resolution pictures ever taken of Mars -- damn you, Ken!") I don't faint, quite, but Ray Arvidson was still right about this beautiful instrument. The MI image is beautiful, too, showing every individual dust grain in an area the size of a golf ball.

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech. Our first MI of the surface, from the surface.

The RAT team puts up a front HAZCAM image showing a healthy RAT; their diagnostics also went well, though the revolve current was a little high because of the Martian temperature differences. Now we just need to take them to a rock they can drill.

The long-term plan is to take them to one, soon. Yesterday we did the MEX[1] overflight (the first international coordinated observation on Mars -- Spirit looked up and MEX looked down as they flew overhead, both of them taking thermal images of the atmosphere), the IDD deploy, and the MI on the soil. The plan for tomorrow is an MB and APXS on the soil. On sol 16, we'll stow the IDD and drive (I'll drive!) to a nearby rock -- probably Adirondack, although Sashimi and an unnamed white rock (some call it "White Boat") are also contenders. After the drive, we'll IDD the rock for a couple of sols, then maybe RAT it -- or drive again. By sol 21, we'll IDD the soil wherever we are, then stand down for a few sols while Opportunity lands.

People are starting to hope: the main path through the above tree of possibilities requires everything to go brilliantly, but as the LTP rep says, "there's no reason to think it won't continue to go that way."

There's a brief discussion of the best rock to drive to. Adirondack is easy to reach and is RATable. Sashimi is also close, but its shape might make it harder to RAT -- Adirondack has a nice, broad, flat surface, unlike its slightly closer neighbor. MTES doesn't care; both rocks are large enough for them. The general feeling, though, is that we need high-res PANCAMs of both rocks to decide. (Squyres wants Adirondack, though. We'll end up there, mark my words.)

Jeff Biesiadecki is making us look good. He's been taking advantage of our slack time as rover drivers to generate a candidate drive sequence to Adirondack. So as a "special bonus," as Arvidson says, I show them the animation, warning them that we cut the drive a little short so that we won't overdrive. This may mean it'll take two sols to reach the rock, not just one.

Leaving the downlink assessment meeting, I realize I haven't seen the sun for a few days. I don't know how many. (I look at my watch later, see it's 1:30, and have to think carefully to figure out whether that's AM or PM.) It's like Caves of Steel in here.

I go see whether Mobility/IDD has their report ready yet. It's a good thing there's no real work again today (Eric is once more the star of the show), because Ashitey is training a couple of new people and everything takes ten times as long as it normally does. I don't want new people, anyway. I want Ashitey and Eddie [Tunstel], and that's it. If that's too much work for them, too bad. Ah, well, the new guys will be fine.

Since I'm really on shift now, I have to attend the SOWG whether I like it or not. Turns out it's more interesting when there's the constant adrenaline fear that they'll suddenly ask you something tough, so I'm more alert than usual. Their plan is characteristically ambitious: MTES and PANCAM on Sashimi and Adirondack, a super-resolution MTES on Adirondack, another MTES octant, a PANCAM of White Boat, and a HAZCAM of the rover tracks. This will all be squeezed in around Eric's canned IDD checkout stuff, so it's a monster day once again.

To help determine the best time to take the HAZCAMs of the rover tracks, Arvidson (who's running this meeting) asks me for shadowing on the left rear wheel. I know HyperDrive can do this, though I've never done it, but I fumble through to the answer. I'm just about ready to show it to them when I get greedy, try something I shouldn't try, and run into a HyperDrive bug. Argh. I start over, play conservatively this time, and get them the answer. I should be doing better than this.

The evening is relatively simple, since Eric has already set everything up. Which is a little anticlimactic, but that's OK. I'm contributing some, here and there, and having everything pretty much canned for the first few days eases me into the job. Even though I know I won't find anything wrong, I review Eric's sequences obsessively, over and over, looking for anything out of place. If we lose a sol, I won't get the first drive. As expected, I don't find anything wrong. I cross my fingers and go home, and for once I'm more or less on time.


[1] Mars Express, the European Space Agency orbiter that carried Beagle 2 to Mars and has been doing some fascinating science of its own ever since.

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