Opportunity Sol 1009 (Spirit Sol 1029)

I'm not on shift today, so I decide to run an errand and go in a little late. While I'm running the errand, my cell phone rings. It's Al Herrera.

"Hey, are you on Lab?" he asks. That's never good news.


"Well, uh, Ashitey was scheduled to be RP-1 today, and he's not here. And he's not answering his cell phone."

Now, that's as unusual as all get-out. "I'll be right in," I tell him. Tara -- RP-2 today -- is there, and she can hold the fort until I arrive. But I'm awfully worried. Ashitey's as reliable as they come; if he's not there, he's probably dead in a ditch. And don't think I'm kidding.

The terrain mesh is just amazing. We're perched near the rim of Victoria Crater, looking out into it, looking across the crater at another promontory. We could damn near drive over there if we wanted to, and if we thought we could somehow descend safely into the thing from here.

Instead, we'll be hauling ass in the other direction, mostly away from the crater. The plan is to make lots of progress toward our next imaging position, but to end this drive well away from the crater, to give us room to perform some more testing of the new mobility flight software. If those tests go well, we'll be able to use even more advanced autonomous hazard avoidance.

The bad news for today is that we don't have PCAM in the drive direction. So I pull out a technique we don't seem to have used on this rover in a while: autonav. It makes me feel good just to be using it again. We back away from the crater rim using VO, so that we'll know for sure when we're 5m or so away. Then we drive blind up to the limit of our mesh -- only about 10m -- and switch on autonav for another 40m or so, a total of about 60m.

Not bad at all, really: I didn't even think I would get to drive the rovers today, much less that I'd do one of the longer drives we've seen for a while. I'm almost disappointed when Ashitey shows up during the day. It turns out the whole thing was a misunderstanding: they'd originally planned no RP activities today, and when they changed their minds, Ashitey didn't get the word. So that explains that, and at least he's not dead in a ditch! Which is good news -- and what's more, since I've already invested in the day, we decide it's best for me to just complete the shift. Bonus!

One of the reasons we can afford to do such a long drive is that our energy has been creeping back up. We're now getting 560 W-hr per sol. It's enough that they suggest to Steve Squyres that this could be the sol we resume doing overnight ODY comm passes.

Steve's excited -- but skeptical. Not because he doesn't believe it, but because, as he puts it, Colette has been playing "Lucy and Charlie Brown" with him -- teasing him with the promise of an overnight pass, only to yank it away at the last second.

"So I'll believe it when I see it," he mock-pouts.

That makes it all the funnier when Colette works it out so that we can do an ODY pass, and Steve gets really excited, and then something or other changes and she has to take it away again at the last second. As usual, Steve takes it with good grace and humor. I'm sure those screams of anguish are in jest, mostly.

I almost don't want it ever to work out. This way is more fun.

[Next post: sol 1032, November 28.]

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech. A small part of the view from today. Glorious!

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