Spirit Sol 8

Someone printed out an enormous color poster of the partial (120-degree or so) PANCAM panorama we've gotten so far. It's nearly 2m tall and 5m long, and they put it right outside my office, so the second I arrive I'm already blown away. I leave my door open so I can hear people walk by and go, "WOW!"

I catch the tag end of one science meeting; in the part of it I catch, they're talking about distant targets they want to try to drive to. One possible target is a crater rim elevated about 5m; we'd get a great view of the surrounding terrain from up there. The crater itself is 200m across and 400m northeast of our current position, which will make for a nice long drive.

The big poster must have been put up while the science meeting was going on, because they don't seem to have seen it yet -- scientists leaving the meeting keep walking by the poster and getting stuck to it. Within minutes, there's a line of scientists along the hallway, talking excitedly about the image, pointing out features to each other, tracking where the airbags bounced across the terrain. Steve Squyres says he's "awed and exhausted" ("exhilarausted," I want to tell him, but now's not the time).

Scientists start to accumulate in front of the enormous color poster.

It turns out that my comment about this being the IMAX version of Mars was prophetic: there is actually going to be an IMAX movie about the mission, using images from the project. Funded by, get this, Disney.

The later science meeting starts with an announcement: apparently, Richard "Face On Mars" Hoagland has "found" a bunch of artificial objects in the PANCAM panorama. Eyes roll. In addition to the (sometimes rueful) spontaneous laughter, there are comments: "Woo-hoo!" "You knew it was gonna happen." "It hasn't started yet." It's a good thing Hoagland can't see what's on the MERboard right now -- some wag Photoshopped one of the real PANCAM images, rearranging some rocks to spell out "GO HOME." Who says scientists lack a sense of humor?

Engineering report: standup continues. They reran the lift/lower of the rover body to help ensure the latches are latched, retried retracting the airbags (no further motion, no surprise), and proceeded to the last two steps of standup -- the UHF session later today should confirm that Spirit is on her feet ("on all sixes," as Chris Voorhees puts it).

They got in some PANCAM and MTES science -- not much, but it was a busy day for the rover, so they're happy they managed to squeeze in anything at all.

The APXS[1] did an overnight integration. They see some kind of unexpected spike in the data due to the temperature swings, but they are happy with the results anyway. Probably, they're just happy to get some data at last. Nothing new from MI or MB[2].

The scientists are looking forward to driving for a new (to me) reason: they're hoping to get some information about the soil properties by looking at how the rover disturbs it on the egress drive. The egress drive will provide especially useful data because the rover drops a little bit when coming off the lander, so it impacts the soil a little more strongly than during a normal drive. They've continued to analyze the duricrust and continue to report that we should expect no problems driving on the surface we can see.

Geology has been investigating the distribution of the white rocks. They seem to occur in contiguous areas, but nobody knows what they're made of yet.

The aeolian drifts we can see so far are mostly oriented north-by-northwest (which would make Hitchcock happy); the prevailing wind therefore is probably in one of the transverse directions. The presenter cautions that his results are very preliminary, though; they haven't had a chance to look at a lot of the data yet. But what impresses me is how much these guys already know about this spot on a planet a hundred million miles away, after just one week of looking at pictures of it. There's an enormous amount of information in the world around us; if you sit and look at it, you just see deeper and deeper and deeper.

Mike Malin has found a way to get something like sub-50cm resolution of the surface from the MOC[3], as opposed to the 1m or so they normally get. They do this by rotating MGS while the picture is being taken, and they did such a good job of compensating for the spacecraft's motion on the first few attempts that the planet's own motion became a factor and caused the images to smear. They're still working on the technique, so it still requires some guesswork -- some "Kentucky windage," as Malin says. But they're learning to compensate for that and other problems, and when Malin is asked for the mockup of what we can expect to see, the room perks up. The picture he shows is a predicted image of Spirit, taken from orbit -- fuzzy, sure, but a recognizable dark triangle sitting on puffy white airbags. I hope we can get the real thing.

The longest operational readiness tests we did before landing were a week long, and that's how long we've been at this now. Usually, at the end of those tests, people were exhausted (not exhilarausted, the plain kind). It will be interesting to see what happens at this point. So far, people are holding up better than I expected.

Brian tells me he spent three hours giving interviews yesterday, and encourages me again to give it a shot. I'm thinking of doing it just to take some of the pressure off him. :-) If I don't like it, I can always be too busy to do more.

I tag along with Brian to watch the daily press briefing in person. One thing I notice immediately, something that I never noticed watching the TV feed, is that all of the presenters are nervous. (Not that I blame them in the least, but objectively it seems unnecessary: what's the bigger challenge, doing the grueling work they've done to get to this point, or answering a couple of questions about it? If humans were fully rational, they'd be swaggering.) Another thing I never notice on TV is this: I'm not sure, but I think that when one reporter is asking a question, reporters from print media look at the questioner, and TV reporters look at the questioner's image on the TV monitor at the front of the room. I'll have to gather more data to confirm or disconfirm this hypothesis.

Thanks to today's successes, the egress plan is looking better than it did yesterday. Yesterday they were planning to egress on sol 13 or 14; today they're saying sol 11. That means the IDD checkout activities happen on sols 12, 13, and 14, with the first drive on sol 15. To be performed by: me.


[1] Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, an instrument on the rover's arm.

[2] The shorthand for the Mossbauer spectrometer, another instrument on the rover's arm.

[3] The Mars Orbiter Camera, Malin's camera that flies on MGS.

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