Spirit Sol 223

So I'm RP-1, bright and shiny at 8 AM. And Art's here, so it's almost like the old days. "How ya doing, Art?" I ask, and he groans, "So good ... if it were any better, I don't know if I'd survive it." So I'm not the only non-morning person around here.

"Are we still driving today?"

"Today we're driving" -- he pauses dramatically -- "maybe one wheel rotation. Hey, don't knock it -- they could take that away from us."

Since I'm here at the right time, as opposed to the time the schedule said, I'm actually present for the SOWG meeting. That's been a long time -- so long, I have to ask Art if they're still having them in the same location. They are, so I head upstairs for that.

This SOWG is easy, since our sol is so easy. They're finished RATting this spot right in front of us and want to RAT another spot near the right front wheel. So all we're doing is turning 30 degrees clockwise and backing up 25cm. There's a little concern that we'll drive over the location we were just RATting before we have a chance to image it, but I model it in RSVP and demonstrate to their satisfaction that we won't be coming anywhere near it.

Of course, nothing is ever that easy, and today's no exception. Since we're on a steep slope, we expect to slip during the drive. The question is, how much? Fortunately, I'm getting better at delegating, so I just ask Rich Petras -- Mobility/IDD support thisol -- to figure it out for me. Between the turn and the drive, we expect to slip about 10cm downhill. RSVP shows that the RAT can still hit a target 10cm further upslope, meaning that the new RAT spot will be reachable even if we slip. I end up cutting the drive slightly, though, from 25cm to 20cm, just to split the difference.

We're holding a press conference today. On the agenda: what Opportunity's been up to, why the scientists care about Spirit again, and news about Opportunity's RAT. Art turns on the TV and starts flipping to the NASA channel, but gets stuck on the Olympics. I'm busy polishing the drive, but the grunts of sympathetic pain behind me keep me amused.

The press conference itself was intelligently done. Opportunity has a problem with its RAT -- it looks like there's a chunk of rock caught in the grinding wheel, which keeps the wheel from rotating. This is a known vulnerability in the design; they can issue low-level motor commands to run the wheel backward, and the obstructing rock should pop right back out.

But if they led the press conference with that, the headlines would read, "MARS MISSION DOOMED: NASA Embarrassed by Failed Science Instrument." And it's all the press would ask about at the end, because they'd get their heads filled up with questions about the RAT and stop paying attention. So they don't do that. They leave the RAT hiccup to the end, and lead with the positive stuff instead. The positive stuff includes Steve Squyres saying Spirit has found the best bedrock yet found at either site. It's exciting because we have altered rock adjacent to unaltered rock -- this gives you a chance to figure out what changed the rock. They also have an astonishing three-frame animation of water-ice clouds moving across the pink Martian sky -- just faint wisps of stuff, but unmistakable. And they have a gorgeous color PANCAM mosaic from Spirit -- the pictures we've been taking the last few sols so I could have an unexpected holiday.

Then they bring up Opportunity's RAT, and sure enough, the press appears to put the matter in its proper perspective. Check that out.

Even though we've been at the hill a long time, we haven't ascended very far -- we're just 9m above "sea level" now. At one point, we were planning to take a path through the hills that would have taken us only about 35m above "sea level," but Larry Soderblom says the plan now is to go all the way to the top of the hill -- 80m or 90m up. Those pictures are going to rock.

Speaking of exciting pictures in our future, Dan Maas is working on another MER video. This one is going to be an IMAX movie, and it's actually been in the works for months. Dan wants the rover to articulate realistically as it drives along -- and who should have software that realistically articulates the rover as it drives along, but yours truly. That, of course, is one of the things RSVP was built for. RSVP can also produce an XML file describing the rover's motion in detail, which is exactly the kind of thing Dan would need. So Justin Wick, an SAP developer who's working with Dan now, asks me to show him how to use RSVP. Which I do, and it's possible -- unlikely, and not a big deal anyway, but possible -- that I'll end up with some kind of credit at the end of the film. "Additional technical assistance provided by ...", or something like that. Heck, maybe they'll make me an associate producer!

Well, let's not get carried away. "Associate Producer" might be an impressive title, but I'll take "Mars Rover Driver" any day.

[Next post: sol 228, August 24.]

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech. A beautiful color PANCAM image showing the RAT work we've been doing on Clovis while sitting here. The full-sized version is even more impressive.

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