Opportunity Sol 292 (Spirit Sol 313)

Opportunity's been sitting at the base of Burns Cliff, taking pictures, so they haven't needed a rover driver for a while. We were released yesterday, and we're released today as well. We'll come back tomorrow -- Friday -- to do the three-sol weekend plan, which has a drive at the end of it (on Sunday).[1]

But Ashitey and I stick around long enough to weigh in on the preliminary version of the three-sol plan. The drive plan normally includes a penultimate HAZCAM image -- an image taken just before the rover takes its last half-meter (or so) step. This is used to support IDD operations, since it gives us a picture of what's under the IDD at the final position, telling us whether it's safe to deploy. But since we won't be doing IDD work, I tell them to skip it. This saves a couple of megabits of downlink volume, which we can use to get science data instead, so I try to do this whenever I can.

But Ashitey wants the image. Why? His argument seems to be: because we always take it. This leads us into a huge philosophical discussion in which I try to convince Ashitey that engineering exists for the sake of science, and he tries to convince me that the engineering side has some kind of responsibility to use up everything it's managed to get the science team to relinquish. I think I win. Or at least it's a draw: Ashitey convinces me that in this particular case we do need the penultimate image in some form, to support some engineering analysis he's doing. But I bargain him down to a half-bit-per-pixel image, which gives us about half the savings I was originally shooting for.

Somehow this also turns into a discussion about how different rover drivers differ on risk-taking. This is something we agree on: Ashitey and Jeff Biesiadecki are the most risk-averse; John Wright and Chris Leger are the most risk-tolerant. The rest of us -- Frank, Cooper and I -- are in between. That's a little odd when I think of it. I'm normally a person who takes things to extremes, good or bad. To be in the middle of anything is new to me.

We don't have to produce a drive sequence today, but we know what we'll be asked for tomorrow. So we decide to build the drive sequence today, at least a rough cut. While we're doing this, John Callas tells us he's bringing the current astronaut class around for a tour, and could we arrange something cool to show them?

One of the great things about being a rover driver is that you never lack cool things to show. (This is very different from being a software developer, where the most cool things about your work often don't look like anything special to a lay audience.) We just hang out in the sixth-floor meeting room and put RSVP up on the big projectors, so they'll display our work in progress.

About an hour later, maybe 30 or 40 astronaut wanna-bes pile in and find seats at the big tables and in what I think of as the audience section. The astronauts-in-training are an interesting mix. Maybe a third to half of the total, and nearly all of the men, are the classic Neil Armstrong pattern: ex-military types with buzz cuts and bulky muscles. The women are less uniform. One or two look like ex-military, one or two others look like somebody's mom, most of the rest look like any women you'd see at the grocery store. Two are ridiculously hot, but one of them makes the mistake of talking. I don't think she'll be flying the Space Shuttle. I hope the other one makes it into space. No, to be honest, I actually hope she flunks out of the astronaut corps and decides she was so impressed by RSVP that she wants to work on MER.

I may be a Martian, but I'm only human.


[1] During the sols that I was off shift, a huge controversy erupted over the wisdom and feasibility of actually driving to the base of Burns Cliff. The upshot was that we might be able to get there, but the intervening terrain created a risk that we wouldn't be able to get Opportunity safely out of Endurance Crater again if we did. The only upside was an improvement to the quality of the imaging we'd get of Burns Cliff, and as scientifically valuable as that was, Opportunity's safety ultimately trumped that consideration. So we pulled up as close as we could safely get and started imaging from there.

I recognize that that was the right decision, as borne out by the tremendous science Opportunity went on to do afterward. We got great imaging of Burns Cliff and then got a whole lot more science after egressing Endurance, continuing to this very day. Despite all that, it still bugs the hell out of me that we never quite made it to that goal.

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