Opportunity Sol 412 (Spirit Sol 433)

Ah, that's the stuff.

Two hundred nineteen point seven meters.

It's not merely a new record -- we broke the 200m limit, and then some. Steve Squyres calls in to the SOWG meeting to congratulate us. "Two hundred meters, that has to be close to the theoretical maximum for these vehicles," he says. "Pessimist!" I reply.

And not only that, we drove a total of 843m last week, according to Charles. Heck, I'll have to take his word for it -- I lost track. But this is just absolutely amazing stuff, so far beyond what we thought these machines were capable of that it almost seems unreal. We're now only about 650m from the next big target, a pair of craters called "Viking" and "Voyager." At the rate we're going, we'll be there by the weekend. Jeff Favretto brought congratulatory doughnuts again, prompting groans from Saina, who's trying to diet but can't resist the sweets.

Plenty of people are congratulating me, but I almost feel I don't deserve it. Our success is mostly a mix of luck -- nastier terrain would cut these drives short in a hurry -- resources allocated to us by the planning team, and the terrific work done by the rovers' designers and builders. I just happened to be at the wheel, or rather keyboard.

Or maybe I just have a problem with accepting compliments.

In other good news, we got the NCAMs down from the previous drive, and they show James Caird Crater right where it was supposed to be. So we know where we are, or rather where we were 200m ago.

219.7m ago.

Downstairs, DS-1 and MRO continue to invade our space (so to speak), and this time, it's personal. MRO put up a huge sign just across from the 5th-floor elevators. The sign masks the words "Mars Exploration Rover," which have been painted on the wall for over a year. And still are, I suppose, though you can't see them. I know this must have been worked out with MER management already, but I'm still offended by it at first. I take my petty revenge by being exaggeratedly condescending in my mind: "Yes, their little project is important, too. Oh, what's that you've got there, a little orbiter? Yeah, that's creative, never been done before. I'm sure you'll be very proud of it." By the time I reach the sequencing room, I'm laughing to myself about the whole thing.

For the past week or longer, we've been seeing these dark smudges on the horizon. Justin Maki has a theory about what they are: he thinks they're Viking and Voyager craters, with the much larger Erebus beyond. Funny, we didn't expect to see them at all, much less for them to show up the way they are. But heck if he doesn't seem to be on to something. He and Tim Parker go off and start drawing some lines on maps, and it turns out the smudges are at just the right azimuths to be those features. That's not proof, yet, but it shows where the smart money would bet. Justin is smart.

Still more good news: we have an even longer drive time thisol. The range data for planning the drive isn't as good as on previous sols, so we have to cut the blind drive a little shorter, but the total time is more than ever before, so the additional autonav time will roughly balance. My guess is that this drive will compare with the record-busting weekend drive. I mention to Saina that we might possibly set a new record, which means more doughnuts. "Please, no!" she begs.

Yet there's some bad news to mix with the good. Spirit's RAT has started acting funny, bouncing dangerously as it grinds. This can break the IDD, so they've precluded any further use of the instrument until they can figure out what's going on. The leading candidate theory is simply that the RAT's drill bit has worn entirely away, which would mean no more drilling for that rover. (They could still use it to brush off surface dust, but no more seeing beneath a rock's surface.) If that's confirmed, Spirit's RAT would be the first instrument to fail permanently on that rover. (Perhaps joining Opportunity's MTES, though the final chapter in that story is not yet written.) It's sad to see these capabilities disappear, a depressing preview of what must someday happen to the vehicles themselves.

All good things must come to an end, I know. But not yet, damn it! Not yet!

No comments: