Spirit Sol 1114

Damn, we nailed that drive. The rock's right in front of us, right smack dab where it's supposed to be, ready for us to give it a working-over with the IDD.

But will we? The IDD diagnostic we did on 1109 gave us troubling results -- no news, which in this case is bad news. We tried touching the MB to the soil, and we got nothing. The images and telemetry agree that there was simply no contact.

Now, that's weird. We really should have seen contact. This makes no sense.

Whether it makes sense or not, the consequence is that we can't rely on the MB to sense contact now.[1] That means a lot of IDD work has to get put on hold -- we can't place either the MB or the APXS, and we can't touch soil at all. It's RAT, MI, or nothing. Indeed, it's worse than that. Since we're not sure what the failure is, until we've done more analysis we're not sure it's safe to move the IDD at all.

The question for the science team is whether they're willing to wait here until the analysis is done, or move on. It's a painful choice, since we worked so hard to get here, but they decide to take pictures and move on. With stolen uplinks, upcoming restricted sols, and other issues, if we decide to stay here at all we'll be here for a week, and they -- by which I mean Ray -- are not willing to spend that much time for this observation.

He puts it well at the SOWG meeting. After a good summary of the IDD situation, he says, "The main reason for coming to Bellingshausen was to do remote sensing on Troll-like outcrops. We've done that. We should drive on and do continued IDD checkout as we go."

That argument carries the day, so we're on the road again. It's sad to leave Bellingshausen, since we were so proud of the drive, but that's the game.

One thing that made the drive so impressive was the damage it did to the terrain. With one wheel stuck, we chew up a lot of soil just turning around, and the previous turn was a 180. So the RHAZ from today was quite a sight, with a huge swath of Martian topsoil shoved around by our anchor.

So impressive is it that Squyres calls in to ask us about it. He's teaching the Intro to Planetary Astronomy and Exploration this semester at Cornell -- who better? -- a class of about 250 students. "Every day I give them about a 5-minute rundown of what the rovers have been doing," he says. "It's kind of a fun way to kick things off. Today I showed them that image of the churned-up soil and all the back-and-forthing from the downlink report."

So at least it'll be good for something.

Today is an RDO, meaning people who work JPL's newly introduced 9/80 schedule have the day off.[2] As a result, lots of Lab services are closed; in particular, only one of the cafeterias is open. Then, just a few minutes into lunchtime, there's an announcement: there's been a fire in the cafeteria. Nobody's hurt, but they have to close that cafeteria. Project Manager John Callas, however, buys everybody pizza from Round Table. Our hero!

I blame the disconcerting announcement of the fire, and my concern about the safety of the cafeteria personnel, for what happens later. For the first time since I don't know when, we catch a real error at the final walkthrough and have to redeliver. (Unusually, Sharon's here and watching. "It's probably my fault," she grins.) The problem was that our drive backbone sequence didn't check whether its helpers were on board, and if they failed to make it to the spacecraft, a variety of bad things might have happened. Annoyingly, I'd briefly thought of this problem earlier, but I failed to write it down, and it went back out of my head by the same door it came in, I guess.

So we have to walk through it all again, and when the time comes to do that, Rich Morris -- a Mission Manager and an RP wanna-be -- asks if he can do the walkthrough.

Ashitey and I glance at each other, then shrug, intrigued. "Go for it," I tell him.

He does it! And he does a pretty good job of it, too.[3]

[Next post: sol 1116, February 22.]

Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech. Can you believe that when we landed on Mars, I felt bad about every imprint I caused the wheels to leave in the soil? And now look what I'm doing to the place. You'd think I lived here.


[1] This is because the MB instrument on the end of the arm has the only contact plates designed for sensing contact with the soil. The APXS and MI, in different ways, can sense contact with hard surfaces -- though the APXS's way of doing that has been broken for a long time anyway. But only the MB can sense soil contact.

[2] In case you don't have this at your workplace: 9/80 means you work 80 hours in not in the usual 10 days but in nine, by working an extra hour for eight of those days. Then you get a day off every two weeks -- in JPL's case, you get every other Friday off. Unlike most of the Lab, MER stayed on the standard, 5/40, schedule. I am personally on something more like 5/80. :-/

[3] So it's a shame Rich is no longer with us: he killed himself last year. This is the first time I've been able to see, up close and personal, the effects that a suicide has on the people who are left behind -- and I know it's much worse for his family than for his co-workers. Rich had a number of good friends, both on MER and off MER, who would gladly have lent him the perspective on life that perhaps he lacked. If you're in a similar situation, find a person in your own life who will give you that perspective, and make sure you get it from them. Please.

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