... and I'm back to the other side of the planet. Today it's a drive -- a short one, but still. We're going 10m blind and another 15m on autonav, around Victoria, toward the (misnamed!) Valley Without Peril.
It's a simple drive, but it's a complicated day, because it turns out we've had uninvited guests on our Meet-Me lines for some time. For years, since shortly after the end of the nominal mission, we've been using teleconference lines to gather the far-flung ops team -- engineers mostly here, scientists here and across the country -- and coordinate our planning. And we just leave the lines open all day, so we can ask each other impromptu questions and whatnot. Well, these are the same phone numbers all the time, and they don't have any access controls for security (duh), and some dumbass included the phone numbers in a presentation that was posted on the Web several months back. (But don't blame him: some bigger dumbass in JPL's Document Review signed off on it.)
This is a huge problem for a number of reasons, the most serious of which is that we discuss all kinds of ITAR-sensitive information over these lines. Under the ITAR law -- that stands for International Trafficking in Arms Regulations -- a spacecraft is a weapons system, so exporting technical data about it is exporting technical information about a weapons system. As far as the law is concerned, discussing certain technical details about MER is exactly the same as a similar discussion about, say, the Patriot missile system. If we continue, knowing what we now know, we can get shipped to federal prison. So we have to scramble to set up new phone lines, and get the new numbers to everyone who needs them (without disseminating them over the old lines, for obvious reasons) ... oy, such a mess.
While they're setting that up -- and we're still on the old lines -- Squyres asks a bunch of obvious questions, like how long this has been going on. We don't know a lot yet. "You know what I'm gonna do?" he says. He doesn't sound mad, but he knows how serious this is, how much trouble it could bring to all of us. "Tomorrow I'm gonna call in on the old line, and start out as if I'm starting a SOWG meeting ... and then I'm gonna stop, and I'm gonna have a talk with these people."
"First you should tell them about the great alien artifacts we found, Steve ...." I pipe up.
You can just hear Steve burying his head in his hands. "Somebody smack him," he groans.
[Next post: sol 1151 (Opportunity sol 1130), March 30.]