Monday, December 05, 2005

Documenting Spirit's weekend

I meant to post this on Friday - I spent a long first day on the job. Every day that we do planning for a rover, there is someone on the job taking notes. The idea is so take detailed enough notes that 100 days later, or a year, or ten years, someone can look at the notes and figure out what we were thinking and why we wanted the rover to do this particular activity.

After a week of "shadowing," I had my first real day on Friday. It actually started Thursday afternoon, with a pre-meeting to outline what we expected to do. On Friday, we were planning 3 sols of activities to take us through the weekend, so it was a long list of what people wanted to do and the pre-plan gets things in order so we only need to hash out the details later. On Friday morning, I came in at my usual 7:30 am, looked at all the data that had come down, read all the emails from people that were circulating, and made sure I had all the random pieces of software running. I tagged-up with the day's planners and managers at 8:30 to make sure we were all present and on the same page. Then I got the various reports and listened in to the morning's science telecon at 9, where all the interested scientists dial in and decide what we want to do.

I summarized the morning meeting around 10 am. I'm a terribly poor typist, so it's not easy to keep up with detailed notes, but I am keenly interested in the details, so it's not that hard to remember things from my misspelled notes. Then, I got on a different telecon line and listened in all day to our incredibly talented engineering staff, who take the list of activities the scientists want and spend all day turning it into lines of code the rover can understand and execute. My job there is to make sure the science activities do actually make it in, note when any changes are made and why, and be an extra brain to double-check on everything.

The activities go through several iterations of turning into more and more detailed engineering-speak, and there are three meetings during the day where various people get together to comb through the latest iteration and double-check it. This is where tiny improvements are made or tiny mistakes get caught. Finally, at about 6 pm, we concluded our meetings for the day and left it to the dedicated JPL staff to turn our requestes into a long code to radiate to the rovers. I finalized my report and posted it for everyone to refer to at about 6:30.

So, it was a long day, but at the end I knew, to the most minute detail, everything Spirit was going to do over the weekend. It was an exhilirating feeling. Several times over the weekend, at home, I could look up at the bright orange point of Mars and imagine, very accurately, whre Spirit was headed and what it might be seeing.

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