Opportunity Sol 337 (Spirit Sol 358)

As of today, Spirit has been on Mars for one full (Earth) year -- four times her design lifetime. I've come in early because today promises to be a full day. Not only are we likely to have reasonably complex IDD work as well as a reasonably complex drive, but we'll also be interrupted frequently for Spirit's birthday celebrations.

The TPS team is much happier with the MIs than I expected. When I took a look at the images from home, three of the five center-position MIs appeared to be badly exposed and possibly also out of focus. But when I look at them again, I see they're a lot better than I thought. Still, the TPS team wants some additional coverage, so we've got more MIing to do -- and in a challenging region, near the limit of what the IDD can reach.

On top of that, we're driving to East Point -- a spot about 10m east of the heat shield -- stopping to take images, and then continuing to the far side of the heat shield. And somewhere in there, we have to make time for anniversary cake.

Because I'm not missing the cake. I've missed out on a lot of things on this mission, but I'm not missing the cake.

The IDD sequence is going to be a fair bit of work, and since Jeff's RP-2 thisol, I hand him the drive, which makes him happier than a pig in slop. The challenging part of this IDD sequence is not simply reaching the desired target, but reaching it at the correct angle. Just to reach it, we have to extend the elbow joint almost to its limit. And to get what the TPS team most wants to see, we have to angle the MI back toward the rover, which means the IDD needs to reach even farther out. I try a dozen different tricks, but in the end I reluctantly conclude that we simply can't get the angle they want and they'll have to settle for something else, though I don't like it.

All this consumes a great deal of time. Meanwhile, the TV is playing the press conference, in which Elachi and O'Keefe are thanking all the team members who made this possible, etc. Happily, they have the good sense to thank not only "all the people in this room" but also all those who can't be in the room to get our media-whoring faces on TV because we're actually, you know, driving the rovers. Ahem.

I do plan to get my picture taken in the team picture at 14:00, which is why I'm surprised just after the press conference, about 13:00, when John Wright comes in and says, "They're taking the team picture now." (Most people missed whatever announcement he heard, so lots of folks weren't included in the picture. That's going to be good for morale.) So he and I head over to von Karman and turn out to be the last two arrivals. There's no more room on the stage, so they seat us in front, right in front of Elachi and O'Keefe. Cool!

Afterward, I have John take my picture with O'Keefe, who's very nice about this even though he has no idea who the hell I am. He's just as nice the second time, after John screws up the picture and we have to do it over. Sheesh, the guy can drive a rover on Mars, but ... well, do I really need to say it?

As I'm leaving, I run into a woman who tells me I was great in "Mission: Space." Which was this Disney interview I did months ago, that sort of seemed to vanish into the aether. Apparently it turned into a special that aired on the PAX network, hosted by Levar Burton, promoting a Disney (EPCOT) ride of the same name. Frank had told me his wife saw me in this show, but they didn't know what it was except that it was on PAX and hosted by Levar Burton. I missed it, but the nice lady says she's trying to get a copy for her own files -- she helped rewrite the show, or something like that -- and she'll try to get me one, too. She says repeatedly that I "presented well," which is a term I'm not familiar with, but the way she says it, it sounds like high praise.[1]

They showed the cake at the press conference, but they pulled a switch and served some other cake to the assembled guests. The real cake was brought back to Building 264 so it could be shared with the ops team. Jim Erickson gives a little speech -- "Let's make this an annual event," he says. (Earlier, Elachi called this the fourth anniversary, not the first -- because, after all, this represents four times the warranty period.) He invites Squyres to say a few words, and he says this:

"With the anniversary coming up, I've been doing a lot of interviews, and one of the best questions I got asked recently was, 'What would you say to the engineering teams who helped you get to this point?' And all I could think of to say was, 'Thank you.' I've been working on this one way or another since 1987, and for the science team and for me personally, this is absolutely, literally, a dream come true. So --" he starts to get choked up -- "thank you."

The cake is good.

The anniversary prompts a great deal of reminiscing, as anniversaries will. In the sequencing room, Art Thompson and Steve Squyres can't stop talking about how close we came to disaster, and how many times. They have more stories than time to tell them -- miswired thruster valves, software problems, important last-minute tests gone awry. "I wonder what are the things that almost got us but didn't, you know?" Steve says. "The five-meter sharp pointy rock right next to our first bounce ...."

"We were lucky," Art says. "And I'd rather be lucky than good. But actually, we were probably a little of both."

"A little of both," Steve nods.

This doesn't fit the thread of the narrative, but I have to relate it:

We can see a bunch of springs in the vicinity of the heat shield, and I remember to ask one of the metric-challenged TPS folks something I've been wondering about: "How big are those springs?"

"Cucumber," she says.

I look at her thoughtfully. "Would that be a metric cucumber?"

As is his wont, Steve asks some pointed, detailed technical questions at the CAM. Then he seems to feel the need to apologize for them. "My secret desire, after you've all gone off to work on other projects, is to become a rover planner," he explains.

You and everyone else, Steve!

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe (left) and yours truly. He was a really, really nice guy.

Mmmm, cake. It tasted as good as it looked, too.


[1] Still haven't seen it, come to think of it. I think the only reason I even care about seeing it, at this point, is the simple fact that I haven't seen it. If you know what I mean.


Emily Lakdawalla said...

For the record, I think this is the first picture of you in this blog with a Famous Person(TM) that does not require the caption "Not Pictured: Me."

djellison said...

This also marks a year of what must be exhaustive work by you, Scott, to make this blog. Thank you - it's absofreakinlutely awesome. The only other blog I HAVE to check daily, is written by the first commentator on this entry :) I find myself getting annoyed at you for taking time off, 5 years ago, as it means I have to wait a few days to read more of it. Only twice have people given as good a telling of flight-ops as this. Squyres in Roving Mars, and Mishkin in Sojourner. Have you heard of them ;)