When we start planning, we don't have the downlink. "So we don't know whether Khaled broke the rover?" I ask Frank. He looks at me, fakes a worried face, and shakes his head no.
Of course, when the data arrives, it transpires that Khaled has done a perfect job; the rover's right where we wanted it.
We're ready to reapproach. But in the middle of the discussion, the science team decides to completely change the plan. Again.
The issue is the long MLK holiday weekend: if we start the heat shield work now, we'll have one sol of IDD work and mostly waste the vehicle's time over the weekend. But if we drive to SpongeBob now, we'll have a ton of IDD work to do there throughout the weekend, using the vehicle much better. So we're going to just drive to SpongeBob thisol, and return to the heat shield on a future sol.
Despite Khaled's success on his first drive, Frank and I decide to sequence this one. Frank slaps together a candidate drive, then goes off to hack RSVP while I modify and refine it. And a nice job I do of it, too: we reapproach part of the way to the heat shield, taking PANCAM images of the part we'll eventually want to come back and IDD, then we're off to SpongeBob in a long, lazy "Z"-drive that avoids nearby debris scraps.
The scientists' interest in SpongeBob is easy to understand: remote sensing suggests it's an iron meteorite! Like our own spacecraft, it likely fell from outer space to the surface of Mars. The weird part is that it's so damn close to our heat shield, just meters away. Either these meteorites are all over Mars, or this is one damn freaky coincidence.
Or, as I jokingly suggest, we hit it during the cruise stage and knocked it into Mars ourself. If that had really happened, of course, there'd be a more recent, hence more prominent, crater around it. The idea might be highly implausible, but it's fun.
I enjoy working on thisol's drive, despite having the usual RP-1 experience of continual interruptions and plan changes. "You sure you want this job?" I tease Khaled.
He answers wryly, "You haven't done data management."
[Next post: sol 374 (Opportunity sol 355), January 21.]
Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech. Our next destination, SpongeBob, is in the upper left of this image. The science team called "SpongeBob" by another name, "Heat Shield Rock," apparently because they couldn't think of anything more boring. But it'll always be "SpongeBob" (or sometimes "SpongeRock") to me.