Opportunity Sol 389 (Spirit Sol 409)

The crater triplet is called Trieste. Which is in Italy. So why are the target names French? (And one's misspelled, at that: "Flinders" instead of "Flanders.") Beats me.

Matt was right, this area makes for a hell of a picture. Once we're into sequencing, I load up a section of the NAVCAM panorama covering the crater in front of us and the one beyond, and switch into 3-D mode. Doing this usually draws people to the workstation, and this time's no exception. One by one, the team members slap on a pair of 3-D goggles and stare in amazement at this inspiring sight.

I don't have much to do -- we turn for comm on sol 389, and then on 390 we turn back and descend about 70cm into the crater to get a patch of flat white rocks in our IDD work volume, so we can poke at 'em next week. Then they take out the comm turn (after I've sequenced it), so I guess that's one less thing.

I knew I'd be working with Jeff thisol, and he's conservative enough to be very nervous about entering the crater at all. So I applied a lesson from aikido: get into position. Last night I spent a couple of hours manually settling the rover to get a sense of exactly where it would end up when we bump forward. RSVP normally automates terrain settling, but that doesn't work in this case because we don't have terrain under the rover, and the software lacks common sense to tell it what unknown parts of the world look like. "Manual settling" means manually tweaking the modeled rover's position, attitude, and suspension until it's in a plausible configuration, perched realistically on the terrain. It's like a Rubik's cube: solving one part of the puzzle tends to disrupt your solution for the other parts, so you have to solve them all at the same time.

But I end up with a pretty reasonable picture, with the rover pitched about 7.5 degrees, and with an overall tilt of about 8.2 degrees. Figuring I'm wrong about some aspects of the solution, our final tilt might be as bad as 10 degrees. That's a bit high for soft sand, but not too bad; and the rear four wheels are all on level ground beyond the crater rim, which helps. I show the solution to Jeff, and most of his nervousness evaporates rapidly. Score one for aikido!

Justin Maki's been up to something characteristically ingenious, and today he shows it to me. It's an orbital map of our location, in the form of a terrain mesh we can load into RSVP. You can zoom way out -- and I mean way, way, way out -- and see the whole area around us, for kilometers in any direction. Just as a test, I go ahead and sequence a candidate drive to Vostok. With this new mesh, it takes no time at all. Then I do the 4.5km from Vostok to Victoria. This is going to be a hell of a good tool for these insanely long drives we've been planning. I'm so excited, I'm practically bouncing in my seat.[1]

But for now, it's the 70cm drive we've got to worry about. Surprisingly, nobody's named the flat white rocks we're driving to, so I suggest "Normandy," and the name sticks. I even attach a picture of the American cemetery at Normandy to the RP uplink report, and for good measure I include the poem "In Flanders Fields" and a picture of the American cemetery at Flanders.

This makes me curious about the target names they chose, so I start looking them up. That's when I realize I've been a total dumbass. The names are those of some French explorers and their ships, not of French places. And "Flinders" really is "Flinders," not "Flanders." The French explorers happened to meet up with Flinders -- a British explorer -- as they were mapping the coast of Australia.

This means "Normandy" doesn't fit into the namespace at all. If I'd known, I'd have suggested "Australia" instead. I quietly edit the uplink report ....

But that's not the only stupid thing I do today. Sean O'Keefe flew out for a picture with the MER team, and Jeff and I get so wrapped up in our work that we miss it. This means I've missed two out of three of the big team pictures (I also missed a recent one with the science team). If I didn't have my own picture with O'Keefe -- and if I hadn't been sitting right in front of him for the third picture, which I did manage to show up for -- I'd be seriously bummed out about this.

If anybody ever finds out how dumb I am, they'll take the rover away from me. And my car keys, and probably my shoelaces.

[Next post: sol 412 (Opportunity sol 392), March 1.]


[1] These orbital meshes have become a standard part of our toolkit -- and they're even better now. The ones Justin was making came from MGS images; the new ones from from the even higher-resolution HiRISE camera aboard MRO. We can't rely on these meshes for all purposes: good as they are, they can't show you sufficiently detailed topography or all hazard-sized rocks, so we must always be able to prove a drive is safe in terms of images taken from Opportunity herself. Still, they're damned useful for context, and for showing that you're on the right general path, among other things.

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