[Yes, this makes two sols in a row labeled "Opportunity Sol 325." That's because we spent two Earth days working on this sol, as a way of taking advantage of the on-the-cusp time phasing between Earth days and Martian sols.]
Since it's a tight sol and we have more than one sol to plan, we start early -- 7 AM.
"Just like old times," I say as I walk into the SOWG meeting. "Getting up before dark ...."
"Scott loves this time of day," Rick Welch says.
"No, no, I just love working on this mission. I hate this time of day."
Yesterday's drive could hardly have gone better -- a "spectacular drive," as Ray calls it. Truthfully, this has practically nothing to do with my skill, talent, or intelligence, formidable as they may be; the hazard-free terrain is just making me look good. Who couldn't drive this thing in a parking lot? Nevertheless, I (and Jeff) do now hold the record for the longest single blind drive on Mars: 91m.
Anyway, we're now about 30m from West Point, the spot where the scientists want Opportunity to spend a long Christmas weekend taking pictures of the heat shield, its impact site and debris trail. The drive is once again a snap: pick an azimuth (Ray estimates 172deg, but I bias it to avoid debris and it ends up being more like 179deg), then drive a long leg, turn to face the heat shield, and take a half-meter step in its direction.
"Damn, this is easier than driving in the Spirit World," I say to Frank.
"Yeah, this plains driving is easy," he agrees. "'Eh, I got a thirty-meter error bar on this drive ....' Talk about low stress."
Speaking of the Spirit World -- Ashitey stops by to congratulate us on our new record, so of course we ask him how the depotatoization is going.
"You don't want to know," he says. He seems to mean it, but we cajole him into telling us anyway. They did some testing in the testbed over the last couple of days and had a hard time dislodging potatoes. (Must have been an intense session -- Frank and I keep throwing out ideas, and Ashitey keeps saying, "Well, we tried that ....") The next thing they're trying is a short, straight downhill drive, which they hope will lift the stuck wheel out of its hole; even if this doesn't remove the rock, it'll put them in a better position for continued attempts.
Spirit isn't the only JPL spacecraft having problems. MGS went into "mode C" -- i.e., contingency mode, which is what we call it when a spacecraft has a panic attack. As a result, they're looking for additional DSN coverage; this may cause them to take station time away from Odyssey. And since we normally uplink via Odyssey, this would mean we'd be unable to command the rovers as planned "for a while." In particular, we'd likely miss out on the weekend uplink. Both of our rovers will be fine; they'll just execute run-out sequences. We'll have to delay our drive and West Point imaging, and the Spirits will have to delay their potato ejection; as a result, both rovers will have a relatively lazy Christmas weekend. Hmm, maybe I should be hoping for this.
Courtesy NASA/JPL/Cornell. Behold, the heat shield approacheth! One giant step closer, and even more beautiful. (Follow the link for the full-sized image.)