Spirit Sol 117

Well, our new distance record didn't last very long. The moment I arrive, John informs me that they just set a new record. They're not sure of the exact number yet, but it's somewhere between 90m and 92m. (90.49, it turns out.) There was an uplink error on sol 115, which kept us from sending any sequences to the rover, so sol 116 -- the sol that's just ending -- was a repeat of 115. As a result, this record-setting drive sequence ended up being worked on (over two days) by Chris, John, and Ashitey -- all the Spirit drivers except me. Sigh.

He's having a little trouble with thisol's drive, though: the software keeps placing the waypoint icons several meters below the ground. According to RSVP, Spirit will immediately descend about 10m, then drive normally underground for a few hours. We feel this is unlikely, so we investigate a little. It turns out that due to a sequencing error in the record-setting drive sequence, we took the final front HAZCAM images at the wrong point during the drive -- we took them before telling the rover it had reached a new site, rather than after. As a result, when the data from those images were merged in with the other data, they screwed up the height map -- the part of the data that tells RSVP where the ground is. When we switch to using updated data with a corrected height map, everything works fine.

One of the geologists, Rob Sullivan, tells me excitedly that the trench we dug the other day worked great. "It's nice to see the grins on the instrument people's faces," he says. What did they find? "They found different stuff than usual," he says. They don't know what or why yet, "but that's what you hope for." If they're happy, I'm happy.

Our next target is another crater about 70m away -- should be a simple, one-sol drive, given the way we've been driving lately. The only fly in the ointment is that our data is limited. For some reason, we didn't get any PANCAM images to support the drive, so we're only able to use NAVCAMs; this limits us to about 15m of blind driving, after which the rover will go as far as it can on its own -- slower, of course. As a result, we might have to take two sols to do this one-sol drive.

Art thinks the rovers will last until September 19th. Why then? Because September 18th is the winter solstice on Mars. If we can survive that, our energy picture starts to get better again.

Saina is leaving next week for her dad's funeral back home in Iran. She hasn't been home in 10 years, she says, and she expects a lot of changes. Iran is a developing nation, and "it's different every year."

And speaking of comings and goings, Jennifer Trosper has now left. She didn't just leave the mission, she's left JPL -- or, to be more precise, she's gone to D.C. to represent JPL at NASA. (Her husband got a transfer.) This opened a mission manager role -- which is now filled by Art. Heaven help us!

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech. A front HAZCAM image from sol 114, showing us poking at the trench we successfully dug when I was last on shift (sol 113).

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