Spirit Sol 148

As expected, today's another drive sol, as Chris tells me when bringing me up to speed. "But not another drive-like-hell sol. We're just going 50-70m to the top of a ridge." There, we're going to take a nice color PANCAM of the hills, while we're still far enough away to be able to take them all in. And we're setting up to do IDD work on the next sol. To improve our chances of being able to use the IDD, we're going to blow off the autonav; this gives us a lot more control over where the rover ends up, and therefore whether it will be safe to deploy the arm.

Yestersol's drive went about 50m or so, leaving us around 20m short of the 3km mark. So we'll break the 3km mark with this drive.

While Chris plugs away at the drive, I start doing my own analysis of the terrain. In the far corner of the room, a couple of people are watching our press conference, where they're discussing the current thinking on driving Opportunity into Endurance Crater. This bugs me -- not because they're watching it, but because I can't. I really want to follow it, so I keep stealing glances, but eventually I give up and concentrate on my rover.

When Chris has finished and we're ready to hand over, I don't see much I would change. I tell him I'm going to slightly change the tolerance on one of the waypoints, just so I'll get my stink on the sequence.

"Sorry," he says. "Next time I'll try to leave you a less complete sequence. Or deliberately put some bugs in it."

So I tell him about Professor DeJong's theorem prover. This was for an AI class I took at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. DeJong gave us a series of projects that centered on this LISP-based theorem prover, but the first project was to study its code to find and remove some bugs he'd put in it on purpose.

"That's evil," Chris says.

"Yeah," I reply, "but it was a great way to learn about the thing; you really had to understand it to get the bugs out. And it was a good idea for him, because any bugs you found in it, he could claim were deliberate -- whether they were or not."

One of the activities on the plate is to PANCAM a rock named "Chisel." Mark Adler asks thisol's SOWG chair, John Grant, what's the deal with that rock.

"Well, we're seeing these oddly shaped bi-toned rocks," John says, "and Chisel is one of those."

We've made some bi-toned rocks ourselves -- drilling into them with the RAT tends to leave a dark hole, while the rest of the rock is still covered with lighter-colored dust. "Maybe someone was here before us with a RAT," Adler says, comically cocking an eyebrow.

"Except with Chisel, the dark bits are raised, as if someone had been here with a chisel," John replies. He cocks an eyebrow back. "Hm? Hm?"

Our new uplink process has been running well through most of the extended mission, but today there's a little glitch. RSVP overestimates the time required for blind driving, and since we only have blind driving today, that's causing a problem -- the software models believe that no post-drive science is going to be done. This isn't a huge problem, since the spacecraft will do the right thing, but we'd like the science team to be able to see a more realistic model at the Command Approval Meeting.

It's at moments like this that one asks oneself, "What would Scotty do?" The command durations are recorded in a file, so all I have to do is work out how long each command will actually take and edit the file to contain accurate values, so that the SIE can run it back through the modeling process.

"How long will that take?" asks Emily, the TUL.

"I don't know, we've never done it before," I tell her dramatically. "Let me invent a fix for it -- say, ten minutes?"

If this were really Star Trek, she'd have said, "You've got five!" (Of course, if this were Star Trek, I'd have known she was going to say that, so I'd have told her it would take twenty so she'd say I have ten, which is what I need. Star Trek is complicated.) But she gives me the whole ten minutes, and I get it done.

After that, I don't have much more work to do. I have a brief chat with Chris Lewicki, who says they're estimating the rovers' motors are at maybe 1/3 to 1/2 of their maximum possible lifetime (8-10 million revs out of a lifetime of 20-25 million). By that estimate, they'll live at most two or three times as long as they have to this point.

I also have an interview in the afternoon, this one with Disney. I think about declining, because it's Disney, or, as I like to call them, "pure evil." But I relent, because the interview is going to promote this mission and (more important) space exploration generally. I think it's safe to say that if you wanted to get kids fired up about space exploration, you could involve someone worse than Disney. And that's a lot more important to me than the fact that a company I dislike will also benefit. So I hold my nose and go.

When I show up, I discover that it's a camera interview -- something to do with a new ride at EPCOT (named "Mission: Space," I think). The story of the ride is that you're an astronaut on a training mission -- to Mars. Which is where we come in.

Apparently, Deborah Bass worked with them on developing this ride. When I come in, she's being interviewed along with an Imagineer who worked on the ride (whose name, I learn later, is Sue). She's saying things like, "Disney was a great partner and the Imagineers wanted to make this ride as realistic as possible," or something like that. The interviewer keeps making hand gestures, apparently urging her to add more enthusiasm or something, but I'm sitting behind him and can't see very well.

Also off camera, off to my left, is a Disney Suit. Her name, I learn later, is Marilyn. Her suit is yellow. She's watching the proceedings like a hawk, making sure it's Disney enough, and making sure the interviewees do enough "branding" (e.g., you say "Disney" or "JPL" or "Imagineering," not just "we"). Periodically they'll pause the interview and have an exchange like this:

Interviewer [to Suit]: You happy?

Sue [embarrassed and nervous]: I know, I forgot to say "Imagineering" again, didn't I?

Suit: You know, I think you need to say a little more about the passion around us.

Then they'll restart the interview -- "show" would be a better word -- and Sue will say, "JPL's passion was an inspiration to our Imagineering team ...."

I feel sorry for Sue.

Deborah could do this for a living; she's smooth and articulate, stays on message, looks comfortable. (Later, when she's done and they're setting up for my turn, I tell her I'm just going to do my Deborah Bass impression.) They finish the segment with Deborah and Sue together, then spend a little time interviewing Deborah only.

While they're setting up for the Deborah-only interview, Sue and Marilyn are waiting around for someone to escort them out -- apparently, whatever I say doesn't need on-site Disney Corporation approval, so Sue and the Suit can leave. (I'll be edited out later, no doubt.) I chat with them a little. Apparently, they've only just found out about the Mickey head we made on Humphrey back on sol 55, and they're aching to get a picture of it. I have a feeling this will be prominently displayed somewhere as part of the ride ....

Then it's my turn. The interviewer (Steve) gives me a list of the questions they're going to ask, so I can look it over while they hook me up with a mike and get the sound and lighting set up. Steve reminds me to answer in complete sentences and at least capture the sense of the question in the answer, because the viewer won't hear the question in the final product. So when he says, "What is the most exciting moment of the mission?" you're supposed to reply, "The most exciting moment of the mission was when ...." (Then I promptly screw this up on the first question, but I get it right after that.)

Knowing what questions they're going to ask helps tremendously. Even having a few seconds per question to get the answers in my mind enables me to structure my responses a lot better. Some parts of it don't go well, even so. For example, one question is about what it's like during EDL -- the "six minutes of terror." Here's the truth: I was nervous and anxious, but controllably so. I knew I'd done everything I could do (which amounted to, approximately, nothing plus staying out of the way). But this is not what Steve wants me to say. I'm not sure at first what he does want me to say, but that's not it.

"Could you say something like, 'Every second feels like an hour'?" he finally prods.

"I don't know if I could say that truthfully," I reply.

"Well, don't say anything if it's not true."

"Let me see," I muse, trying to think back to the moment. "What was it like, what was it like ...." Then I realize what it was like, and he's not going to like the answer. I smile brightly yet sardonically for the camera. "It's like when you're waiting to get a test result back from the doctor, and he finally says, 'OK, Mr. Smith, you don't have a disease after all.'"

Lisa Townsend (the JPL Media Relations person here monitoring the interview) and I laugh. Steve laughs politely but seems nonplussed.

"But you won't want to use that," I say.

"We're not going to use that," he nods, and we move on.

Steve has an interesting interview technique. He frames the question as a negative, as in: "What was it like developing and testing these rovers? I'm sure it was really easy, right?" Obviously this is meant to prompt you to respond more energetically: "Developing and testing the rovers, especially on such a tight schedule, was extraordinarily challenging ...."

This is all part of a more general aim: ensuring that we look upbeat and energetic. Think of how Disney wants people to look on this video -- that Disney-happy-happy that borders on mania; that's what he's after. So another thing he does is a kind of weird ongoing pantomime. As you're answering the question, he'll sort of body-English your answer, making hand gestures and facial grimaces to urge you to do it bigger and brighter.

Unluckily for Steve, that's over my limit. I did earlier interviews where I felt compelled to display more enthusiasm than I had, and I felt dirty about it afterward. If there's a difference between that and lying, I don't see it. So I've already decided I'm not faking it for anybody any more, period. I'm plenty excited and enthusiastic about what we're doing, and if it doesn't come across naturally when I'm speaking, then too bad.

Luckily for Steve, some of his questions do get the kind of reaction he wants -- and they get it genuinely. The best of these is when he asks about the most memorable moment on the mission so far, or something like that. "The most exciting moment for me was when we drove from a rock called Adirondack, where we'd been sitting for a couple of weeks, to another rock called White Boat," I say. "It was the first time I'd driven the rover solo, and it was a big deal to me. Later, I went home and tried to get some sleep -- and couldn't. Because a hundred million miles away, on the surface of another planet, there was a robot doing what I told it to." The whole time I'm saying this, Steve is doing a kind of "yeah, yeah!" reaction, as if he'd just hit the home run in the World Series.

So I guess he liked that one. And a few others elicit a similar response, so I guess he's getting what he's after. "You guys are great," he beams afterward. "You're going to get me another job." (He's a contractor, not a Disney employee.)

Despite Steve's odd interview techniques, the guy is affable enough. I'm reflexively suspicious of flattery, so I discount the nice things he says about my interview performance. But he encourages the crew to suggest interview questions, and when they do, he asks them. Which is a nice way to treat people. And he and the cameraman both seem honestly interested and excited about being here. I spend some time with them afterward, explaining the THEMIS images and guiding them through what I know of the Opportunity panorama mounted on the wall behind us. Steve gets Lisa to take his picture with me, twice -- once with us holding up a MER poster, and once with us pointing to the blueberries visible in the Opportunity pan.

"Something to impress my parents," he explains.


Anonymous said...

What's the current status of the wheel-rev lifetime estimate? I see Opportunity is over 16 km now.

Scott Maxwell said...

@Anonymous My data on this is about six months out of date, and I am definitely not a hardware guy, so please take these numbers with a grain or two of salt. But as I understand it, the drive motors in Spirit's wheels are all at about 1.5x their max design lifetime, while the drive motors in Opportunity's wheels are at about 3x their max design lifetime (probably more, given how much she's been driving recently).

That might be a lower factor than you were expecting, but I believe the motors had a lot of extra lifetime margin built in. Even with that, as you can see, we've still gone way beyond the spec -- and we're still going.