Opportunity Sol 460 (Spirit Sol 480)

Yikes. Cooper had an emergency appendectomy this weekend. He's consequently unable to come to work, so I volunteer to fill in for him. This puts me back on Opportunity for the first time in quite a while -- today, and for the next couple of days.

The Opportunity team has just about decided to drive out of Purgatory. They haven't even tried moving yet, but testbed testing has been encouraging. They've been able to simulate most of the important conditions of the real vehicle, and they keep managing to drive it out.

Indeed, we're back in the testbed again today. Jeng and I whip up a candidate sequence, whose only mobility command is to steer the wheels in preparation for the first stage of the drive. This single command is surrounded (fore and aft) by a zillion imaging commands. We're taking this very, very slowly.

Then we walk down to the testbed, where we meet up with Frank and Mark. We won't be driving the testbed rover in the special soil they cooked up to simulate Opportunity's current site, due to medical concerns: the fine particulates are dangerous to breathe for long periods, and we haven't been formally trained on the respirators. (I don't honestly see what's to know. It's a face mask. You strap it on. But their intent is to keep us healthy, and I can't find too much fault with that. They're insane, but they mean well.[1])

As usual, it just takes forever to get anything done. A couple of hours go by, and we haven't run the sequence yet. Both Frank's and my ESD certifications have lapsed, so we can't man the kill switch anyway, even once the rover gets going. We mostly stand there chit-chatting -- about the rovers, about LISP, about camera phones, about whatever. An employee I've never met brings a couple of guests by, and I go over and talk with them for a while about Opportunity's current status and what we're working on. "That's the second time I've seen you do that," Frank says after they depart. "You're like a rover ambassador."[2]

Then, just before things really get going, I have to leave. I'm working the Open House this weekend, and they have an orientation meeting this afternoon. Which is mostly useless, but one of the speakers makes a good point: "Not everyone has the privilege of working somewhere where everyone wants to go there and see what they do." True, and that's why I'm doing the Open House: for the sake of all those poor slobs who want to be me.

But seriously, I am impressed with the scale of the effort. As another speaker puts it, "This place was not set up to be Disneyland." But we turn it into Disneyland for a couple of days a year, and that's pretty darn cool, really.[3] I'm only too happy to be a part of it again. (Also, she mentions offhandedly that they used to have an open house on the last Sunday of every month! I can't imagine it was anything like the scale of the present undertaking, but even so, that must have been a very different time.)

I make it back to the testbed just after the sequence finishes running, which pretty much officially means I wasted my entire day. We then have a long conference call with the rest of the uplink team, to set up for tomorrow. They'll be doing additional testing on this sequence tomorrow in parallel with the uplink process, but it's clear that at least some people think we're jumping through a ridiculous number of hoops: as Jeff Biesiadecki puts it, "The rover would have to catch on fire for us not to send this sequence."[4]

So I guess we're going ahead with that, then.

I go back to my office and review the sequence once again, and I do catch a couple of minor errors -- one of which would have prevented Opportunity from moving at all. So I guess it wasn't a complete waste after all.


[1] I eventually had the face-mask training, as part of the Spirit extrication effort. Turns out it's a face mask, and you strap it on.

OK, so there's a little more to it than that. But not much.

[2] To this day, that was the nicest way anyone's ever called me an attention whore.

[3] This is probably why I started calling it "Deep Space Disneyland."

[4] What sequence do we send if that happens?!

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