When I first joined the Athena team, I went out to dinner with my fellow New Mexican, Larry Crumpler. He said something that stuck with me - that the value of planetary geology is what you gain in being able to see the Earth differently, and hopefully, better. I'm finding myself looking around me all the time and asking, "How would the rovers see this?" It's especially true now that we're rounding third and heading for "Home Plate," a mysterious feature that could be a crater, a salt pan, a lava flow, or come combination of all three.
On my commute home every evening, I head up La Bajada hill, an abrupt fault face capped with spectacular columnarly jointed basalts of the Caja del Rio field, where I live. It's usually getting on dark when I creep up the hill, but this week I happened home early and saw my passage through the tumbling basalt boulders, steep arroyos, and deep red soils. I really paid attention to the illumination, the relationships between boulders and layers, to what I saw and what my brain filled in as "normal." It was one of those great moments when I'm so happy with my own brain. Then, later in the evening, it got dark and there was Mars itself, a shining orange point.