Spirit Sol 1109

I'm happy, so happy. There's a MER science convention in town, and the science team is actually here in the room with us. Today we're joined by "PANCAM Emily" (as we call her, to distinguish her from "Mission Manager Emily"), along with a couple of other usually off-Lab science team members.

Others flow in and out through the day, including Rob Sullivan, whom it's always a great pleasure to talk to. And that's not only because he makes a point of profusely thanking the RPs for all of our hard work, and enthusiastically sharing the science results he's deriving from the observations we're helping perform. Okay, that doesn't exactly hurt, but mostly it's just that he's a super-nice guy.

Another side benefit of having the scientists in town is that they give a science update/briefing for the engineering team. Except, of course, for those of us on shift -- such as yours truly. It really sucks to miss it, but if you have to miss it for something, it might as well be this.

But there's one part I refuse to miss. Word reaches us that one of the scientists brought in an actual Mars rock -- a couple of them, really; ancient Martian meteorites that have been found here on Earth. The moment I hear about this, I zoom upstairs to get a look. Objectively, they're kind of disappointing, just a couple of chunks of granite-like stuff. But the idea that I'm holding a piece of another world in my hands is plain thrilling, even if I do have to wear latex gloves to do it.

To my astonishment, I literally have to drag Terry and Ashitey away from the keyboard to get them to go up and have a look themselves. ("Guys," I point out, "the tactical timeline is important, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Do not miss this. You will kick yourselves if you do.") As it is, Ashitey gets distracted by Jennifer Trosper and never gets around to holding the rocks -- as he sheepishly admits to me later -- but Terry makes a point of thanking me.

Despite all the distractions, we get through our sequencing without too many hiccups. And it's a complex day, with both IDD and driving: we're doing a test of the MB contact switches, then spinning (well, lurching) around so we can examine the Bellingshausen outcrop we dragged ourselves over to on a previous drive. The drive sequence is awfully complex, but we're getting better at these drives, forming tested and reusable pieces to build them out of, so that they're not quite as bad as they look.

Squyres is one of the visiting science team members, of course, and when he stops in for the final walkthrough, he can barely contain himself. "If you'd done a drive like this during the nominal mission, the Mission Manager woulda thrown you outta the room!" he cackles.

Since he's here, I take the opportunity to ask him about, well, Opportunity. (And about the HiRISE cameras, which seem to be showing some kind of premature degradation in the optics or electronics. He's glum about that.) The plan for Opportunity, Steve says, is tentatively to visit two more promontories, and then we go in.

"At Duck Bay?" I ask him.

"Maybe not. We can ingress wherever," he says. "At Endurance, we had the rule that we could only go in if we could prove we could get back out. Here we have no such restriction: the project is OK with it if we're unable to egress."

Well, the project might be OK with it, but I'm not. Now's not the time to make a point of it, but we're not going in there unless we can get out again.

Speaking of getting out ... it's Valentine's Day, and Sharon has decreed that we are not to remain here past 5 PM. She shows up about 20 minutes before that so she can start glaring at everyone a little early.[1] Despite a late start, a drive plus IDD on the same sol, and a multitude of distractions, we make it. Barely -- but we make it.

[Next post: sol 1114, February 20.]


[1] Just one of the many things that made Sharon probably the best boss I've ever worked for.

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