Spirit Sol 800

I'm not on shift today, but we have a critical decision to make for Spirit's future, so I show up at a 7:00 pre-SOWG meeting to help make it.

I help Ashitey put the finishing touches on a presentation for the meeting. The downlink isn't promising. We couldn't get onto the berm -- we turned but couldn't drive; deja vu -- and the far side of the island contains slopes we can't cross any more anyhow, so the direct path to McCool is out. The question is whether to take the scenic route we imaged yesterday; take a different, more northerly route; or back out all the way to Home Plate.

The meeting proper is all bad news. There's no new thinking on Home Plate; it remains probably out of reach and likely useless even if we could get there. As for the other two routes, nobody's done enough analysis of the imagery yet to make a decision. But since we have to back out to where we were on sol 781 before we can try either path anyway, that gives us a couple of sols or so to do the analysis. And we'll know more then than we know now.

Around the time we're reaching this decision, Steve Ruff chimes in. "Hey, if this is the closest we're going to get to McCool Hill, we should stop a couple of days and take some PCAM and MTES imaging." It's as if the guy's in a different meeting. We're desperate -- Squyres puts our odds of surviving this at fifty-fifty, and Chris Leger thinks that's optimistic. We need every erg of energy, and every second of time, to get to safety. And this guy's talking about blowing a couple of days on science? Squyres shoots him down -- but only with difficulty; Ruff is persistent.

After the meeting, Oded tries gamely to defend Ruff's proposal, saying it's not as absurd as it sounds. "If you're gonna die, there's the question of what you do first. Do you leave these questions unanswered, or ...."

"You try to get out of the burning house," Chris Leger says flatly.

Which is pretty much how I feel about it. If we really give Spirit up for dead, that'll be the time to consider how to spend her final hours. Personally, I want her to go down fighting -- it's how she'd want it. And we're not even that far gone yet. Not yet.

I make this point, in a different way, just before the meeting ends. Oded asks, as usual, "Anything else?" And I grab a mike.

"I just want to point something out." I look around at the tired, grim people in the room, and I know there are more like them listening on the telecon. This is a team that's in the process of giving up, and I can't stand it. "I just want to point out that we're here today planning sol eight hundred of our ninety-sol mission." Everybody laughs. Somehow this fact had almost escaped everyone. "Maybe so many of these sols with double-aughts have gone by that familiarity has bred contempt. But the fact that we've made it this far is a hell of an achievement. Whatever the future holds, we and this rover have done a lot of impossible things before. And all we're talking about here is doing one more."

It's not everything I wanted to say, or everything I wish I had said, but maybe it's enough. All of a sudden everyone's laughing and cheering and applauding, and the mood is quite different.

Will it last? Will it matter? I don't know. But when they make a movie of this mission -- I mean, another movie -- they'll include this moment in it, I guarantee.

Maybe they'll get Tom Hanks to play me.

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