Spirit Sol 92

As I enter the fourth-floor door, Ray Arvidson is exiting. "Hi, Ray!" I say pleasantly. Grumpy Ray says nothing. That usually means something is wrong.

So I'm prepared for the worst when I go to the SMSA to see how we did -- and we did fine. Just about perfect, in fact. Route66 is reachable, and we're pitched up a little more than we expected (3deg) but still under the limit (4deg). Our heading is a little bit out of bounds -- 124.2deg; we yawed more than expected for some reason. But this isn't likely to pose a significant problem. I don't know what Ray's problem was, but it doesn't look like it was us.

Maybe he just feels bad that Opportunity has put us to shame. The previous single-sol distance record, which has stood for a whopping two or three sols now, was Chris's last drive, a shade over 50m. Opportunity just finished a drive of 100.049m. Well, the race was nice while it lasted, but we haven't a prayer of beating that.[1] They might beat their own record, but we won't. Still, everyone's happy in the SMSA.

Meanwhile, the scientists are cheerfully arguing about their near-future plans. Apparently, Route66 is interesting enough to stick around and investigate it at length after the FSW upload completes. (Seems unlikely to me, but I'm sure they know their business. Come to think of it, maybe this is what Ray was so grumpy about. He wants to make tracks for the Columbia Hills, sooner rather than later, and maybe he's unhappy that the gang wants to delay.) Apparently, Route66 is the only other rock we've seen that is interesting for the same reasons as Mazatzal (or so says Steve Ruff). Alian Wang points out that, as predicted, rocks are getting smaller as we get farther from the crater, so if we want to investigate large rocks, we should do it now. (Route66 is not a very large rock, but we might look for one to explore on the way out.)

Today's schedule is unusually short because we have a party later: as of sometime in the late afternoon of sol 91, we officially completed 90 sols of operations on Mars. This means we have met every single mission objective for full mission success. It also means we need to get done by about 4:00, so that we can have cake and watch animations of the mission. Fortunately, I saw this coming, and built most of thisol's sequences yestersol. So when Julie asks, minutes after the SOWG, if I think we'll be able to finish the sequences on time, I'm able to say, "You want to see the animation?" Ah, that felt good.

Today is Bob's last day, again. He came back for one last set of shifts, and now that's over. I remember that he had asked if he could be the rover planner who signed the Activity Plan Approval form on his last sol (that's usually an RP-1 thing; he's never been the one to do it). So I let him. "If I'd known it meant that much to you, you could have signed all of them!" I tell him.

With the sequences done, I'm able to devote some time to a couple of guys from KCET (producer Saul Gonzalez and his cameraman, Per or Pere or something), the local PBS affiliate, who are here to (among other things) interview me.[2] It's my first TV interview, and I find myself making the same mistakes I made in my first radio and print interviews. The specific mistakes are things like not structuring my answers correctly, not including the question in the answer, and stuff like that. I also tend to worry a lot about the wording of my answers, and whether I'm going to blurt out something that makes JPL look bad. (He asks me something about whether I feel like I'm following in the footsteps of famous explorers such as Lewis & Clark and Amelia Earhart. I have this horrible impulse to say, "Amelia Earhart crashed," which is not a smart thing to say in any interview, much less on PBS. Fortunately, I catch myself in time to change my answer to something along the lines of, "Well, I don't know if I'd put myself in that category, but I might put the rovers in that category.")

But the fundamental mistake is having the wrong attitude about the interview. Since I'm so introverted, I tend to withdraw when I'm being interviewed, and it turns out that having to sit still with a camera aimed at my face just exacerbates this tendency. The right attitude is: they're here interviewing me because what I do is damn cool, and all I have to do is talk about it. I've gotten the hang of taking that attitude into radio and print interviews, and it works well for me, but I don't seem to do that in this interview. I manage to come out of my shell a little when answering a couple of the questions, and I hope those are the bits they'll actually show. I also sit down to show them an actual recent drive in RSVP, and I feel more comfortable about that part.

While we're looking at the drive, he asks if I've gotten better at planning the drives, and I tell him a true story. An important part of planning the drives is scanning the terrain for mobility hazards, places where it's not safe for the rover to go (usually because of oversized rocks). I've gotten to the point where I sit in front of the images and just pick them out without even thinking about it -- that's a mobility hazard, that's a mobility hazard. Well, recently, when walking across JPL, I saw a rock out of the corner of my eye, and before I could stop myself, I thought: "That's a mobility hazard; better not drive there."

When that's all over, I return to the sequencing MSA, where Angry Bob is reminding everyone how he got his nickname. The day's submaster sequence is killing the IDD sequence in a way that's unsafe and could damage the arm. Bob is livid; he just sent out email -- again -- about not doing this. Later he apologizes to everyone for raising his voice, but I tell him he just wouldn't be Angry Bob if he didn't do that once in a while.

I stop by and talk to the RAT guys on my way up to the party. The RAT guys are all New Yorkers, and among the pictures on their door are some pictures of actual NY graffiti -- images of a Mars rover. Apparently, someone painted these only a few blocks from their offices.

The party is pretty much what I expected -- 300 people in the SOWG room, mostly sitting in chairs or standing by the walls. They're showing an updated version of Stubbe's movie[3] on a couple of the projection screens. (People laugh whenever the rover does its roverdance, a reaction that annoys me.) A couple of the other screens show another movie created by Justin Maki, which just rapidly flashes through every image taken by Spirit so far. I think he said there were 14,000 to date.

They also show a short movie someone made to document Spirit and Opportunity's landings, and another documenting Spirit's anomaly. It puts all three of those events in perspective to realize that all those worried faces are now in this room, looking much more relaxed.

A bunch of people get up to talk, but I miss a lot of it because I get interrupted to help fix a problem with the day's uplink process. (Not my fault: someone accidentally overwrote a file.) I get back just in time to hear the last couple of speeches. Jennifer Trosper does her usual thing, congratulating everybody -- a little clumsily, but sincerely. She's at her best when she talks about how she noticed everyone's sacrifices, and how she used to say, all through development, that she wished she could find a way to reward people adequately for all they sacrificed. "I knew I never could find a way to do that," she says. "But when you look at the success of these missions, that's your reward."

Gentry Lee, an SF writer and one of our system engineers, says memorably: "I'd like you to imagine a 25th-century history book. George W. Bush will not be in it. Osama bin Laden will not appear. But there will be a sentence that will say, 'In the early years of the twentieth century, two robotic explorers went to Mars and forever changed Man's perception of our neighbor planet.'" I don't know if I completely agree (except about bin Laden), but it's a brilliant point all the same, and when he says it, I feel an actual thrill.

The party continues off-Lab, at Mijares Restaurant, but I don't go. I decide I'd rather go home and see my sweetie. On my way out, I go downstairs to get my bag, and in one of those weird coincidences, I'm once again entering the fourth-floor door at the same time Ray Arvidson is exiting. "Hi, Ray!" I say pleasantly.

"Hi, Scott!"


[1] We did, of course. Never bet against the rovers!

[2] Transcript.

[3] As mentioned on a previous sol, you can find the video here; direct link to the .mp4 is here.

No comments: