Spirit Sol 178

"Could you do the IDD sequence?" Chris asks. "I'm worried about the drive."

Ah, it's nice to be back in RP-1 territory. Even though writing the sequence is almost completely a matter of expanding macros -- very little problem-solving required, in this case -- it's still a nice change of pace.

The main reason Chris is worried about the drive is that thisol will be our first use of visual odometry (visodom) on Spirit. After two or three rounds of very nearly using it, only to cancel the experiment at the last minute (breaking Mark Maimone's heart each time), it looks like it really is on for the day.

So naturally, when Mark stops by to help out, I look at him and deadpan, "You know we're not using visodom today, right?" The look of horror on his face before he realizes I'm just fooling is priceless. Then he starts to laugh. "Very funny," he admits, "you got me."

The chair with the "How's My Driving?" sign on it has been in the RP-1 spot since the sign was first taped to it. I think I broke the spell, though -- I moved it to the RP-2 workstation a few days ago, and now it's begun to float around the room. Like just anybody can sit in it! Today it's Ray's chair. Later, when everyone else has left, I steal it back.

While the software is cranking away, getting things ready for the CAM, Jeff Favretto comes in to ask for everyone's help. The flight director webcast for the day is going to have a special feature: at the end of the report, they want a whole bunch of MERfolk to pop up and shout, "Congratulations, Cassini!" So Jeff is rounding up participants.

We all troop over to the SMSA and pack in around Jeff. As we arrange ourselves, I realize that Jeff -- who's taller than I am -- is standing between me and the camera, so I'm not even going to be visible. I caption this event in my mind: "The other MER members and I congratulate Cassini. Not pictured: me."

But as it happens, Jeff repositions himself, and I'm clearly visible in the webcast after all. At the crucial moment, on cue, the camera pulls back, a couple of dozen additional team members pop out from hiding places, and we all wave and shout, "Congratulations, Cassini!" It looks a lot less cheesy than I'd envisioned.

Mark Maimone has been working in the sandbox, testing something or other. Since this is Spirit's first use of visodom, Mark Adler asks me to have him present at the CAM to answer any questions. So I call Mark -- who has just gotten the system up to the point where he can start useful testing -- and ask him to come to the CAM.

Mark arrives on time, but -- to neither his surprise nor mine -- the CAM starts 20 minutes late. Still, he's in a good mood; the stuff he's worked on for years is getting its day in the sun. Naturally, in the middle of the CAM, Adler starts asking questions about resource usage. Then he turns to Mark and says, "You know what, we're out of time -- we're going to cut visodom."

But he's kidding. Mark laughs his good-natured, rueful laugh, saying "I was waiting for that. Thanks a lot."

In the end, the commands go to the spacecraft. Visodom, at last.

On my way out, I run into Trina Ray on the steps of Building 264. I've known Trina for a long time -- she's a Cassini radio science team member, energetic and funny. She rants about the poor job the Cassini project has done of coordinating with the media. Only a day or two into Saturn orbit, they're already making amazing discoveries about the rings and the moons, and very little of it is to be seen in the press. "We've got Prometheus pulling material off the F-ring, we've got Epimetheus venting oxygen into space ...." She buries her face in her hands and issues a frustrated groan. "I gotta go," she says, and she walks into the building.

[Next post: sol 182, July 7.]


Emily Lakdawalla said...

The problem with Cassini was, I think, bad timing. July 4 seems like a great day for a big event on an American mission but I think most people had other things on their minds and weren't in the mood to do much more than say "hooray, it's successful." For instance, on the day of SOI, I was on a family vacation at a cabin in Montana and didn't even get Internet access until the day after. When the rovers landed in January, everybody was suffering post-holiday blues and was hungry for something to get excited about.

Scott Maxwell said...

@Emily While that might be part of the explanation, I really think there's a lot more to it than that. After all, Pathfinder landed on July 4 (in 1997) and was huge news. At the time, it was the biggest Internet event ever, and it certainly made a huge, sustained, worldwide splash in the regular media as well.

I think it's more that people relate to surface missions in a very different way from the way they relate to orbiters -- in large part, I think, because surface missions see the world from a perspective people find easier to relate to. It's easier to imagine yourself there when it's a surface mission, and I think that triggers a natural excitement that orbiters rarely, if ever, seem to match.

Anyway, that's my hypothesis. When I get a chance to drive the first rover (or submarine) on Europa, maybe we'll know for sure. :-)