Thursday, November 03, 2005


This week, I've been lurking on the kickoff telecons that take place at the beginning of each (earth) day. These telecons are where the team tags up to make a plan for the rovers for the next day. Because of the 9 minutes it takes a radio signal to get the Earth from Mars, and another 9 minutes to send a signal back, it's impractical to interact with the rovers in real time. Instead, every day we uplink a whole sequence of commands to the rover, telling it what we want it to do with its day on Mars. The rovers have some very sophisticated software onboard so you can tell it, "Go 30 meters north" and it will use its judgement to avoid rocks and go around obstacles to end up where to tell it to. You can also tell it to point its instruments at the sky or at a specific point on the ground and take pictures or get a science observation.

In addition to the daily plans, the science group also has long-term plans for each rover that get reviewed every week or so and guide the daily planning. This week, we evaluated what we want Spirit to be doing for the Martian autumn. We want to get to a specific target that is far away, and we need to get there before the winter sets in and the solar power available drops by a lot. To do this long-term plan requires a lot of driving and doesn't leave a lot of time for wandering around. It's good to be in on these discussions so that I can better judge what potential constraints on my science interests are.

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