Opportunity Sol 407 (Spirit Sol 428)

I have mixed feelings about the result of yestersol's drive. Frank and Brian were given a record-long amount of time to drive -- four hours and fifteen minutes -- and they put it to good use. The new one-sol record is 183m. Great news for the project, but as the now-eclipsed record holder, I can't help feeling a little sad.

And I won't get to regain the title today; they can't spare enough time to drive. We might get 150m or so, though, which used to seem really good but now seems hardly worth spitting on. Since we can't beat the record anyway, I generously accede when they ask for a couple of unusual procedures -- one where we'll stop in the middle of the autonav segment and do some mid-drive imaging (a first, I think, so at least I get to invent something); and another where we have a second, comm-turn-only, drive sequence. Maybe agreeing to this will make me feel like less of a bastard if I decide to refuse them on some sol where we could set the record.

Aw, who am I kidding? I'd never do that.

Charles Budney is the SOWG chair this week. Normally he's a Mini-TES guy, but he's temporarily filling in for a number of absent SOWG-chair types, who are off at some conference. He's been only too happy to let the rover drivers drive, which, as I tell him, is going to make him one popular SOWG chair.

"Just as well," he says, "since it looks like the Mini-TES is dead." This has been the subject of investigation for the last couple of weeks or so. The normally reliable instrument suddenly started returning errors instead of data. The more stuff they've tried, the more their hope has faded. I know Charles in particular has a pessimistic streak, and there's been no formal announcement yet, so I'm still holding out some hope myself (read: "I am still in denial"). The loss of this instrument would be bad, since it helps us determine chemical composition at a distance -- a very powerful tool in our toolkit. I guess we'll see.

Maybe rover death is the somber theme of the day. Downstairs in the sequencing room, Brian Cooper and Justin Maki start talking about what it will be like when one of the rovers dies. "They'll start making fault trees" -- "Pulling people back from other projects" -- "They'll keep trying for about two weeks" -- "Yeah, two weeks is about right, two weeks in denial" -- "They'll think maybe they saw a glitchy signal" -- "It's sad, but you learn a lot about radio science when something like that happens."

"Chris Salvo was saying it's gotten to be like the rovers are right in our back yards," Justin says. "And he's right, it is. But at any minute, they could be a hundred million miles away again. It could happen like that."

What a comforting thought.

In happier news, the dust devil that recently cleaned off Spirit's solar panels seems to have removed the dirt clod from the magnets as well. That's the dirt clod that's been there since the MB picked up a chunk and wiped it off on the magnets, way back during conjunction. I haven't seen the MB lately, but last I saw, a lot of the dirt that had stuck to it was gone as well.

"I need crater names that start with a 'V,'" Charles announces. "These are supposed to be ships of exploration." He doesn't get enough suggestions that start with "V," so he relaxes that requirement and suggestions start flowing faster. Jay Torres suggests "NCC-1701." Cooper suggests "The Minnow," and that one is definitely going to get used.

"We should use that name for one of the craters where we stop and IDD," I say. "Because the target names are so obvious -- Gilligan, the Skipper, ...."

"And if we don't," Charles says, "The Minnow would be lost."

That one almost physically hurt. What did I ever do to him?

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