Spirit Sol 77

I wake up on the wrong side of the bed and arrive at work in an uncharacteristically foul mood. My mood doesn't improve when I see the results of the drive. We didn't make it.

It looks like we slipped twice as much as predicted; we're short of our planned position by maybe half a meter. We wanted to end up where we could IDD Mazatzal, including RATting. But the rock is barely within reach of the IDD, and we definitely can't RAT it from here. So we'll have to spend another sol getting where we really need to be.

Well, I'd been wondering what it would feel like to blow it. It doesn't feel good. In fact, it feels absolutely fucking rotten. In retrospect, I could have lived without knowing that.

This makes the downlink assessment meeting an uncomfortable place to be. I feel like everyone's being careful not to blame me. But it's my fault. I should have fought to use visodom; this would have cost us a lot of time and power, but we'd have pegged the drive. Or maybe I could have found a better approach angle, or something. I should have tried harder.

We'll be here three or four sols. Their commitment to RAT this rock is unshaken, though thanks to me that won't happen as soon as it might. (Bah.) We'll probably treat Mazatzal the way we treated Humphrey: brush off several spots to get the effect of a single big spot we can effectively MTES, IDD those spots, and grind one or two of them more deeply for closer inspection.

Is this a "white rock" of the sort the White Rock Mafia has been agitating for us to investigate? Nobody seems to have a firm opinion. "Can't we just say it's a white rock and be done with it?" someone asks wearily.

The more I sit in the meeting, the less it seems to me that anyone else really is upset about our (my) failure to reach Mazatzal. I'm still deeply upset with myself, but I seem to be the only one. Dave Des Marais even puts a positive spin on it: "In a way, this is ideal for Steve [Gorevan, the RAT guy] because he'll have full control over the approach."

I later sit down with Dave and Steve to talk about exactly where they want to go from here, and Dave goes off on a fascinating explanation of why Mazatzal captured their interest. Its large size and unusual shape were initial factors -- different is good -- but it also has a "sugary" texture, indicating that it might have formed slowly. This would mean that it's coarse-grained and hence a good, relatively soft target for RATting. It might also contain chunks of harder materials -- probably not quartz, but maybe something harder than plain basalt. Finally, Mazatzal was likely spat out of Bonneville Crater when the crater was formed, and has been sitting right here since then. During all those millions of years, the wind has screamed across the crater, picking up dust and whipping it against Mazatzal, which caused its weird, scalloped appearance. (The geologists' term is "ventifact": a rock that's been faceted and polished by wind erosion.)

The plan for tomorrow is to inspect the soil next to Mazatzal -- its "skirt" or "apron" (depending on whom you ask) where the soil is coarser and darker than elsewhere. Then we'll drive to a nearby position -- toward the other end of the rock (the part that looks to me like the fish's head), and angled more directly towards it, and a little closer. If we could just push the rover half a meter to the left and about 30cm closer in, that would be perfect.

I really want to get this drive just right, especially after today's, ahem, disappointment. It should be a simple drive -- but yestersol's drive should have been simple, too, and look how that turned out. So I work on the IDD part of the sequence during the SOWG, so that I'll be able to focus on the drive afterward. I'm finishing this up as the meeting ends, and as people are filtering out, one of the PULs, Miles, approaches me. "I forgot to congratulate you on that excellent scuff drive the other day," he says casually. Miles is a good guy.

Either Bob is losing his enthusiasm or I'm getting better at the IDD sequencing, because he makes fewer tweaks to this sequence than he's made to any others. I hope it's that I'm getting better, since he's leaving MER to work full-time on Phoenix at the end of the nominal mission, just a couple of weeks from now. That will be a shame -- not only because I literally sleep easier knowing he's looked over the IDD sequences, but also because I'm going to miss his dry humor. I think I'm even going to miss his bad moods, the ones that have earned him the nickname "Angry Bob." Because I don't think he really means it.

The name "Mazatzal" is still causing problems. During a meeting in which people keep fumbling the name, one of the UVLs asks plaintively, "Are we gonna stay here for a while?" Everyone laughs because we know what he means: if we're going to keep talking about this rock, we need to give it a name we can pronounce. "Maz" is the current leading candidate.

I'm done for the sol, but I stick around anyway, because Opportunity is climbing out of its crater today. My shift ends about 8AM, but the comm pass isn't until about 12:30, so I play backseat rover driver for a little while, then fiddle with some other work.

When the time comes, I go sit in the SMSA. It's a happy place; I haven't seen it like this since the landings. Most of the mission managers are there, along with some media, and seven of the eight rover drivers -- including Frank and Brian, who built the drive sequence that will take Opportunity out of the crater.

When the pass comes, our first indication of the results is just a number on a DMD display: Kevin Burke reports that the rover is on flat ground. Either it climbed all the way out, or it slid all the way down to the bottom (just kidding, that wouldn't happen), so we all cheer.

Then the images come in. We applaud again before realizing that they don't look quite right. They're tilted, which they shouldn't be if the rover is flat. We spend some time trying to figure this out before we deduce what happened. Kevin reports sheepishly that he'd read off the wrong number. The pictures don't lie: the rover is tilted. Opportunity is still in the crater.

Oh, what the hell. We're all celebrating anyway. Matt Wallace breaks out champagne and serves it to the rover drivers after a little speech. "Here's to trying again tomorrow," he concludes.

This goes on for some time before I notice the contradiction in my own attitude. I'm still deeply depressed and angry over the failure of my drive, but I don't feel anything like that about Opportunity. Quite the opposite: I'm genuinely happy that they got as far up the rim as they did, and I'm looking forward to their success on the next sol. Sometimes I wonder how my life would be different if I went a little easier on myself.

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech. Opportunity didn't quite make it after all.

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