Opportunity Sol 712 (Spirit Sol 732)

"I think I owe you a beer," says Larry.

"You got lucky," I tell him, "I don't drink."

He's referring to the fact that our drive wasn't quite perfect. While we ended up almost exactly where we wanted to go -- and we still have an IDD -- Upper Overgaard was just slightly out of the IDD work volume. However, the next-priority targets, located on Lower Overgaard, were reachable, and Opportunity did some IDD work on them last week.

And she was supposed to do more over the weekend, but she spazzed out again. Just at the end of the first IDD mosaic, when she was all of one milliradian away from returning to the ready position, she experienced another joint stall. To make matters worse, it was a joint-2 stall -- not a joint-1 stall, as we have been seeing -- and nobody seemed entirely sure what to make of that.

So they did some diagnostics over the weekend, and the good news is that Opportunity passed those with flying colors. The general feeling is that there's nothing to panic about and we should just proceed with IDD work today. We obviously want some diagnostic info, but in this case there aren't any diagnostics that would be materially better than just continuing the IDD work, and obviously we get science as a bonus with that.

That is, that's the general feeling among the engineers in the meeting we're having about it. And it's echoed by the scientists. As Matt Golombek puts it, "Upper and Lower Overgaard are one of the highest-priority science targets we've had for 200 sols. Even if we knew we had only five uses of the IDD left, this would be one of 'em."

So with science and engineering in complete harmony, we should be all good to go. But as usual, things are more complicated than they have any right to be. For one thing, it's not immediately clear that we're going to be doing any planning on the rover today. Because of the unusually high winds and accompanying wind-blown debris here at JPL, people are now being turned away at the gate. That apparently has included data management people, and Opportunity's tight on flash, so without them, we might not be able to do anything useful thisol.

That problem gets solved when Jake tracks down a data management guy who arrived early -- he's not technically on shift but agrees to help out. But there are other problems as well. Chief among these is that we need approval from NASA HQ before we can proceed, and we haven't gotten it yet. They spend some time rehearsing their arguments, to maximize the chances that HQ will accede. Joe Melko makes the point that what's killing the IDD is simple thermal cycling, not usage. Whether we use the IDD or just sit here and fret, its lifetime's the same. "You shouldn't be afraid of using it, you should use it as much as you can while you still have it."

"Use it or lose it," Squyres paraphrases.

"No," I point out. "Just 'lose it.' Whether you use it or not."

On the assumption that HQ will show good sense, we go ahead and plan for the resumption of the IDD campaign. The sequence has already been built, although it wrongly used 26mm (not 23mm) for the MI best-focus position after the MB touch that precedes each stack; that's something I'll have to change, but it's trivial to do. However, before I can really sink my teeth into it, Squyres is on the telecon.

"No IDD," he says flatly.

Everyone groans. We've just finished the APAM, and we now need to replan everything, as well as losing another sol to this problem for no good reason.

He seems to feel he owes us an explanation. "Basically what happened over the weekend was, people at JPL who didn't know what was going on made promises to people at NASA HQ who didn't know what was going on, and promised we wouldn't use the IDD at all until HQ was brought up to speed." And for some reason, the woman at HQ we need to speak to is unavailable today.

"This is ridiculous!" Matt Golombek fumes. And he's not the only one.

"Hey, feel free to vent, guys," Steve says. "Callas and I just yelled at each other -- I yelled at him and then I felt better, and then he yelled at me and then he felt better. But at this point, promises have been made that can't be unmade."

We can all see the justice of this, as frustrating as it might be. I (and others) thank Steve and John for trying anyway. And then they replan the rover's day, and, I'm sorry to say, it won't include me.

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