2009-03-04

Spirit Sol 60

The project continues to work on extended ops scenarios. Since the rover drivers are under the most time pressure most days, we'll be among those most affected by the outcome, so they've asked the rover drivers who aren't on shift -- including me -- to come in for a meeting to discuss it. I listen and try to give useful feedback, but I realize in the meeting that I don't care that much about which option they select. Either way, it's not going to be the same any more. It will still be very cool, but I don't think it will be the same.

I also realize that surface ops has changed my life. I haven't been in a meeting like this in a long time, and I sure as hell haven't missed it. A bunch of people sitting around a table, most of them typing at their laptops, droning on and on, not getting anything accomplished. My life used to have a lot of this. Surface ops forces people to move, to waste no time, to think fast, to be efficient, to get things done. Surface ops is institutionalized impatience, and with good reason: there's a deadline every day. This must be a little bit like what some people feel when they leave the military.

One of the presenters also says that "people are getting tired of Mars time." I look around, surprised to realize that it's true. Everyone in the meeting -- everyone who's working Mars time, at least, and that's most of them -- looks exhausted. "I love Mars time," I say, thinking: "you wimps."

I also feel a very petty satisfaction in seeing how tired they look. Most people who have trouble with Mars time have trouble because they're morning people. I've been in meetings with some of these people at 7:30AM more times than I can count, and I felt every bit as haggard as they look now. Well, now they know how I always feel! Score one for night people!

I have a lot of work to do, but I can do most of it at home with a cat on my lap. So I don't stick around long. But before I leave I talk to Art Thompson a little bit. Art is almost as enthusiastic as I am about the mission, I think. "How often do you get a chance to do something like this?" he's always asking. As a Pathfinder veteran, he's had the chance twice; I will probably never do this again.

On my way out, I see a beautiful picture on the wall in the SMSA: the second try at RATting the rock worked, leaving a 2mm-deep hole ringed by a mess of debris. I congratulate the RAT folks, who are looking happy and relieved, and go home to work.




Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech. The successful RAT hole on Humphrey.

2 comments:

Dave said...

Scott, how would you rate your enthusiasm these days compared to those early days with Spirit? And the overall stress factor as well?

I can imagine that in those early days causing a lost sol would just about kill you, but how about now that you've been through 5 Earth years of sols?

Scott Maxwell said...

@Dave I'd say my enthusiasm for MER is pretty much what it always was. If it were a love affair, it might have gone from torrid to merely passionate, but it's still up there. The main difference is that MER used to be my entire life, the project I spent 100% of my time on. Now I also work on MSL and (though I haven't done much for them lately) ATHLETE, and I worked on PHX some as well. Consequently, I'm less focused now. (Which I'm sad about -- I periodically consider chucking the other work and going back to full-time on MER.)

As for losing sols ... when we transitioned to the extended mission, we made changes that mean we use the rovers less efficiently, as part of a balance that lets us use the rovers as well as we can without burning out the team. We don't throw away whole sols, but we do much less per sol than we used to. As Andy Mishkin put it, we turned from a sprint into a marathon, and that implies a different running style. We do occasionally lose a sol due to a sequencing error, DSN equipment failure, or the like; it's still a big deal, but not *nearly* as much as it was during the nominal mission.