This week I spent a couple of days at the Johnson Space Center in Houston learning the ins and outs of two of our arm instruments – the Alpha Proton X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) and the Moessbauer spectrometer (MB). These two instruments give us detailed, quantitative information on the major-element chemistry (APXS) and mineralogy of the iron-bearing phases (MB) in the rocks, and are the two instruments that I’m most interested in for my work. So, as one of my operational roles, I wanted to learn more about how they work and how we make them work.
Both the APXS and the MB were designed and developed by German teams as contributions to the MER mission, and they are led by the Payload Element Lead scientists in other countries. They are the ones who know the real ins and outs of these instruments. But, in the current mode of remote operations, two people at JSC know an awful lot about the day-to-day operation of the instruments, and Houston is a lot easier to get to than Germany.
These three days were really rewarding for me. Days like that are the ones that keep me going through the slump months. It was the busiest couple of days on both rovers that we could have asked for, as both were using their arm instruments on interesting outcrops. I got to see lots of friends and meet new colleagues, learn something really interesting that only a few people in the world can do, feel confident that I can do it well, and talk about the science with a collegial bunch of planetary scientists. As an extra bonus, while there, I also got to see the Stardust samples making tracks through their aerogel collectors, just a few weeks after their return from Comet Wild/2.