Opportunity Sol 959 (Spirit Sol 980)

The drive went beautifully, or so we think. We got a nice PCAM of the slab of rock we're targeting, just 6m away. The bad news is that we didn't get the HAZCAMs for some reason. One of the other RPs floats the idea of driving even without them, prompting Steve to tease, "Are the PIs more conservative than the RPs now?" But, I say, "Nope: we don't drive without the HAZCAMs."

Steve agrees. "We drove aggressively so that we would have a margin day. Let's use it."

That becomes the default plan. But it gets under my skin. We worked hard on yestersol's drive, and it worked, damn it. I hate being stymied by something like this. So I go down to MDOT and ask them what happened to our data. Sometimes it didn't make it to the spacecraft for one reason or another, but sometimes it's just a ground processing problem of some description -- a server needs to be restarted, or something. It's worth asking, especially since I won't have anything else to do if the HAZCAMs are truly missing.

The answer from MDOT is that the data made it from Opportunity to Odyssey (our relay orbiter), but they're not sure yet what happened to it from there. It's either still on Odyssey, in which case we won't get it until tomorrow, or it's in the Odyssey TDS (the telemetry data server), in which case they might be able to figure out what's wrong and get it unstuck.

This is actually pretty good news, as far as it goes, so I take that back upstairs with me. "Change of plans," I say. "Let's plan as if there's going to be a drive. If there isn't, we'll pull it and just do remote sensing."

Then I turn to the RPs. "While we're waiting on the word from MDOT, let's see what we can do without those HAZCAMs. The burden of proof has to be on those who want to drive: we'll have to prove it's OK to drive without them. But let's bring every piece of data we have to bear on that. We've done it before, but we know we'll have to have a wider discussion -- especially since we're so close to the rim -- and we should have a case to make when that happens." They swing into action.

Man, I'm on fire.

And it turns out it's a good thing. For some reason I don't quite get straight, we lost our uplink pass tomorrow, so today is our last day to bump before conjunction. (Well, we have one more day if we absolutely need it, but we really don't want to spend that one if we don't absolutely have to, since we're not sure exactly when we lose contact with the rovers, and we want to get some IDD work in first so that we can start a long integration over conjunction.)

And then we get the word from MDOT. They found our HAZCAMs! They've been here on Earth the whole time. They've restarted the server and we should get the data in about 20 minutes.

The good news is that when the images pop out of the server, they show nothing alarming. Just as we expected -- and we can drive! The bad news is that more data pops out at the same time, and it shows an unexpectedly high current draw on the RF wheel. No telling why, and we decide there's not much we can do about it. We're driving.

The actual sequencing isn't my concern, for the most part. I'm not on shift today, just hanging out to keep an eye on things for this near-rim drive. (Ah, the responsibilities of being a lead RP!) But it's a straightforward one, appropriately simple: we drive up to a rock target ("Fogo"), bump onto it to scuff it, and then back down a bit so that we can see the scuff and IDD the rock.

(This mini-story doesn't fit anywhere, but it's a classic. While we're chatting about the sequence, my cell phone rings, playing a Smiths song, and Matt Heverly grins at me. "You're the only adult I know who has that many ring tones," he quips. "You should be a junior high kid.")

Speaking of data coming down during the process ... while we're looking at the drive during the APAM, Squyres pipes up with an interesting question. "Hey, we just got the HiRISE image of Opportunity at Victoria Crater," he announces. This is the high-resolution MRO image we've been eagerly anticipating. "Would it improve the tactical planning process if I --"

"Yes!" I declare without even thinking about it.

"Whom should I send it to?" he asks.


I really am on fire.

A few moments later, we're looking at Opportunity, as seen from orbit. She's sitting there, perched on Cape Verde -- just a few pixels across, and most of that mast shadow, but it's undeniably our baby. This is astonishing. It makes her real all over again. I can't even find the words.

We're going to take good care of her.

Our sequence is appropriately cautious, sporting all the bells and whistles that it should for something that takes us so close to the rim. And it helps that we're going uphill to the rim from here, so if we slip at all, it will be in the safe direction, away from the edge. But everybody's nervous about it anyway. As Matt Heverly leaves, he sums up the feeling: "Well," he says, "see you at the Congressional Anomaly Review Meeting!"

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona/Cornell/Ohio State University. Steve sent us a black-and-white preview of this glorious HiRISE (MRO) image showing, unbelievably, Opportunity from orbit. Click through for the full, spectacular image, available in both annotated and unannotated versions.


g said...

"Would it improve the tactical planning process if I --" "Yes!" I declare without even thinking about it. "Whom should I send it to?" he asks. "Me!"

Was the image actually relevant, or were you just itching to get a copy fast? :-)

Scott Maxwell said...

Oh, I had absolutely no tactical reason to see that image at all. I would have killed and eaten my own grandmother to get it, though. :-)