Spirit Sol 1034

On the road again ....

Well, not just yet. We'll be bumping in a couple of days, exercising those weary wheels. But we want to do some MIs first, and we don't want to do IDD work and driving in the same day -- driving our five-wheeled vehicle will be plenty tough without any added distractions. So we're doing the MI today, and then we'll bump Thursday and/or Friday.

The surface we're MIing has something that looks like lapilli -- they're these little glass beads formed in volcanic ash. Whether the objects we're seeing are actually lapilli or not is an open question; that's just what they look like.

To a geologist, anyway. To John Callas, they look like peas, and that starts a whole lot of comparisons between the features we're seeing and Twinkies, pancakes, and I can't even remember what else. I think we all must be hungry!

[Next post: sol 1037, December 3.]


Spirit Sol 1032

It's only sol 1026 on Mars, but we're planning sol 1032 for Spirit -- nearly a week ahead. These long APXS and MB integrations will do that.

Next week, things get more interesting on this rover: come Thursday or Friday, we'll try to drive away. We want a spot where we can see the MB "damage" from the winter campaign, and from which we can begin our attack on Esperanza.

Should be fun. But the only thing we're up to today is a MB-to-APXS tool change. And it was already done. Yesterday. By a shadow. Makes me feel damn near useless.

Can't wait for next week.

[Next post: sol 1034, November 30.]


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!


Spirit Sol 1024

Opportunity's drive stopped early; what was to be a 1.5m bump was a 1m bump. But they can see just fine from where they ended up, so they're staying there.

Spirit's drive didn't go as well as planned, either; we failed to stomp the outcrop. However, we ended up where we wanted to be, which on this vehicle is a huge success. We might try again.

But for now, we're OK with where we are, and we're up to some light IDD work: MI+APXS thisol, RAT nextersol.

Terry's the shadow today, and he needs more practice using the IDD, so I hand it over to him.

It's a long day. A long, long day.

[Next post: sol 1029 (Opportunity sol 1009), November 25 -- MSL's launch date, we hope!]

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech. We might not have done everything we wanted, but we ended up in a cool place. Those platy-looking outcrops make tasty food for our robotic arm.


Opportunity Sol 1000 (Spirit Sol 1019)

I called dibs on the Opportunity "Now Planning Sol 1000" sheet -- and got it. So I have the set.

Dibs is a very powerful concept.

I shouldn't actually be working today, but Sharon, who's our team chief and therefore handles the schedules (among many other things), is a woman of her word. They changed when they were going to plan sol 1000 -- that was originally scheduled to be tomorrow, but for complicated reasons they decided to plan it a day in advance, so it's getting done today. Sharon had promised me I'd get to work on sol 1000 on both rovers, so as soon as she heard about the change, she came to me to alert me to it, and see who I wanted to bump so I'd be on shift.

Jeng and Antonio were RP-1 and RP-2, and Tara was shadowing. So who did I want to bump off the list? Well, what kind of a person would I be -- what kind of a team lead would I be -- if I took away the fun of planning sol 1000 from someone else? So I had Sharon add me to the list as a second shadow.

And here I am, shadowing, as we drive Opportunity to the rim of Victoria once again. It's a short drive, and one we can do without a lot of uncertainty, using VO all the way. But certain people (Cindy Oda) have been freaking out whenever we drive up to the rim, and today is no exception.

So today I try a new approach. I start trying to compare the drive to things people can see around them. We're driving less than the width of the room we're in, a little more than the length of our conference table. I measure the size of the carpet squares; they're a little more than a half meter on a side. Walt Hoffman has a great idea: we've got a couple of 3m network cables lying around, which gives you a handy way to measure 3m (our distance from the rim), 1.5m, and 1m, at least.

I think this helps. It gives people something more concrete -- being able to say "We'd have to be wrong by the length of this 3m network cable, on a drive the length of this conference table" is pretty effective.

So everything proceeds apace. Until John Callas shows up late in the day and starts asking the same questions all over. And even that is going fine until Justin Maki -- a level-headed, bright, and valuable guy -- starts winding Callas up. "Well, what if we had two meters of range error in the NAVCAMs you're using for the drive?" Justin asks. Two meters of error? This is just absurd, and very much out of character for Justin. A realistic number for range error over that distance is maybe 8cm.

But John Callas doesn't know any of this, and it's his ass if something bad happens. So that's a painful conversation.

John Wright is listening to all this, and doesn't say much. Except, when it's all over (and we've cut the drive short another 50cm for no good goddamn reason), he tries to make me feel better about it. In his way. "Spirit's probably not going to survive another Martian winter," he points out. And he's right, we barely made it this time. "So keep Opportunity safe," he continues.

Yeah. I see his point. I mean, we were keeping her safe before, but ... yeah. I see his point.

Oh, well, we're still going to enter sol 1000 with a hell of a view. As is his wont, Jim Erickson pops by to see how things are going. "We're planning sol 1000 today!" I tell him brightly.

He looks down his nose at me, mock-snide. "Talk to me when you get to sol 10,000," he says.

Don't think I won't, Jim!

[Next post: sol 1024, November 19.]


Spirit Sol 1007

It's my first day back on shift after conjunction. Both rovers weathered conjunction just fine -- maybe they don't need us as much as we think they do!

During conjunction, with the sun firmly planted between our two planets, Spirit also survived crossing the sol-1000 barrier. And I managed to snag the "Now Planning Sol 1000" sheet, and got everybody to sign it. Sweet, sweet victory. Since I'd requested to be scheduled on sol 1000, Sharon scheduled me for that day, even though there was no planning that day. I just walked around all day with a big dopey grin on my face. It'll be even sweeter when Opportunity's sol 1000 comes around in a couple of weeks.

This will be the first time we've MId Spirit's solar panels since about sol 505, apparently. Thisol is -- or, rather, these sols are, since the work executes across 1006 and 1007 -- pretty MI-heavy. Ken Herkenhoff, the MI's designer and lead, is going to be in heaven.

Meanwhile, here on Earth, not everything is going that well. Our building has a partial power outage, leaving us with nothing but emergency lighting and the glow from our monitors. I love it, actually. It's all Star Trekky. This is how things are supposed to look around here!

But there are also problems with Maestro, our planning tool, that threaten to delay the day significantly. Fortunately, our TUL, Colette, manages to get things under control, and we finish the day on time -- not with a lot of margin, but some. She's a heroine!

[Next post: sol 1019 (Opportunity sol 1000), November 14.]