Spirit Sol 108

The drive sequence is coming along fine when I show up. Not much of a surprise.

John seems to be a little irritated that I'm there, as if he's taking it as a statement about his competence. Or maybe it's nothing to do with me: the timing's tight, he's been here since 6AM, and he not only has to build the sequences but also explain everything he's doing to Ashitey as he goes -- in addition to the usual business of continual interruptions from the scientists and managers. So maybe he's just stressed.

Either way, I limit myself to pointing out a couple of minor things that really are problems, and otherwise try to hang back as much as possible. As soon as I can politely break away, I go to the SMSA to talk to Mark Maimone about the results of the drive sequence Chris and I planned the other day. One of the mid-drive waypoints timed out, but that wasn't much of a surprise; that waypoint was thrown in at the last minute anyway and the sequence was designed to function properly even if we didn't make it to that position. We didn't cover 100m, much less 80m, but we did traverse 73m, and that's pretty good. The rover followed the path we wanted, it just didn't go quite as far along it as we hoped because the autonav spent a lot of time thinking about obstacles. This is a perfectly fine result; that's the kind of thing autonav is supposed to do. So it was a good sol.

I also run into Chris Leger, who confesses to having spent a partly sleepless night worrying about the drive sequence. While I'm talking with Chris about this, John Grant walks by. "Hey, did we make it to a kilometer?" he asks.

"No," I tell him. "We're at 986 or something."

"OK, but you have to make it to one kilometer today," he says. He explains that the kilometer bet is back on after all, and if Spirit doesn't make it to the 1km mark nextersol, he's the one who's going to have to buy the margaritas. I reassure him that we'll make it.

Chris goes off to plot out our schedules for the next few weeks, and I go to meet my visitors: Tracy and her son (John), Trish and her son (Matthew), and Mike Gan -- who's also in our group. Tracy and Trish claim to have adopted Mike.

So I show them around, and it's kind of like what I did with Susan's visitors the other day. Only this time, there are actually people around, doing real work. John Wright's mood has improved by this time; he voluntarily starts showing the kids our software. But since the room is busy, I take them upstairs to the Opportunity floor (currently empty) to give them a chance to play with it themselves. I also take them up to the sixth floor, where Opportunity is having its SOWG meeting -- but these meetings are boring for me, much less for a nine-year-old, so I just quietly explain what's going on and then usher them out.

Then we walk down to the ISIL. MER has decided to run the testbed rovers all day today so that kids can stop by and see a rover in action. On the way down, I'm killing time talking about the rovers. Matthew is trailing along beside me, listening intently. John starts hopping on one foot as we go downhill, and Matthew joins him. Tracy and Trish start laughing. "Oh, man," Tracy says. "Kids." I start hopping on one foot, too. "Yeah," I say, "you can't do this just anywhere!"

Whoever decided to have the rovers moving around in the ISIL knew what he was doing. Both Matthew and John are fascinated and full of questions, which I try to answer as best I can. When they ask why we don't just drive the rovers in real time, with a joystick, I illustrate light-time delay the same way I did for Ethan and Jacob: "Imagine you're playing Quake," I say, "and there's half an hour between when you press the fire button and when you see whether you hit the guy." This works.

John becomes borderline scornful of the rovers because they're so slow. "My car is way faster than that!" he exclaims.

"True, but your car needs someone driving it all the time. The rovers can drive themselves."

John thinks this over. "Okay," he says grudgingly, "that's cool."

[Next post: sol 111, April 25.]

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