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Planning a Dig Strategy

by Suzanne M. M. Young

November 08, 2007 -
Greetings from LAX!
We just had our 14th Phoenix Science Team meeting at JPL. My, oh my, is Pasadena ever lovely this time of year….especially compared to the chilly Northeast! Of course, we miss the majority locked in a board room with no windows…..but we get out for lunch and eat outside so we know just how glorious the day we are missing actually is!  No coats -- even at night. Back home I’m already in turtle necks, wooly jumpers, and winter coats, hats, scarf, gloves….  For this trip, I locked my coat and woolens in the car trunk and dashed into the airport free of the extra bulk.  Yeah!

Down to business! We had a wonderful meeting. All good news from the real Phoenix in flight -- the flight itself and all the various tests and activities we do along the way -- everything is going just swimmingly well. I do have to step back and laugh. For the MECA-WCL tests -- all we can do while we fly -- is check in with our temperature and pressure electrodes. All else would need the liquid to be released and the experiment to be in progress. But we can tell our system is alive and well. Anyhow, we keep getting installments of our data and plotting it against time. I’m amazed at how warm we were for a long time. I thought space would be fully frigid. It’s warmer out there than on our own poles right now! Interesting. Anyhow, the part I have to laugh about is that every time we can get a plot that is just temp versus time, I gather my lab staff and show them all what’s coming back from our instrument’s trip and the kids go nuts with excitement over temp versus time.  Me too, actually -- but I always was just a kid at any age!) It’s mind blowing to us to think we are getting this from space and we are zooming towards another planet.  Another massive cause of excitement a RAC image of the inside of the scope -- that’s all it can see……but oh, my goodness! It’s the first picture from space -- the inside of a shovel that we made on Earth….yet it’s the most major cause for excitement.

I can’t help but think this whole adventure is a good Zen lesson. Joy in the most simple things.  It’s like when my family watches my 1 year old niece and my 3 year old nephew play and giggle at tiny things and think….ooooh, wasn’t it great when life was so perfect and simple….  Little do they know, that I go to work and go into orbit myself over a simple line drawn across a graph of T vs t!!!  And the line doesn’t even do very much! Not much various or fluctuation or anything and it’s ooooooh, wow, isn’t that the greatest!!!  Look, look, look (look, mom!) -- isn’t it great! A Line!!!!  But it is great, actually. It’s a significant line!

Anyhow, the meeting was lots of fun -- as they always are -- but this one was truly exciting beginning to end. We had all these snippets from each instrument team about what feedback they are getting from space. And we are really on our way to Mars. And we also spent really significant time using the meeting more like a workshop this time as we hash out and negotiate the entire mission strategy for dig days and which instruments run when. We have been working on this for weeks in one of our weekly telecons, but the whole Science Team had to have a chance to weigh in. Of course, during the real operations, we’ll be responding to every amazing thing we find on Mars. But should things be going along in a routine way, we will have a full 90 day plan in place. We are currently developing the plan -- to make sure everyone gets sufficient science in well designed experiments, to make sure all our resources do get utilized, to make sure everything fits in the time span of operations. We also think through loads of what-ifs and try to image all the different kinds of things we could encounter so we have plans in place for how to respond or adjust. I admit there were some heated moments in discussion of why not this way and why can’t our instrument go first (I might even have had a heated moment myself defending an earlier position in the plan for the very first WCL experiment to run…..but, you know, sometimes one just must!) -- but in the end everything is very well planned and terrific. It’s coming together and so is the team.

We have a good plan for if only one major thing runs at a time -- a structure of everything lined up back to back. But we’ll have more power and more capability than that. So now in the interim, the team will evaluate nominal resources and what we can do to tighten up the plan -- make it even more efficient, so we have extra time to explore things we don’t even think of and can’t even expect.  he fact of the matter is, every time anything has explored Mars, unexpected things were found.  So we need to be ready for what we can’t even guess right now! It’s going to be trickier than simply saying okay -- 2 or 3 instruments can run at once depending upon the state of power.  Some instruments, like the OM, take fairly little power or even time to run, but take a massive chunk of the data volume with all the microscopic images — especially in a high resolution modes. Other instruments, like our WCL, take up very little data volume, and do not even cause a big power hit, but run the entire day -- and actually hope for really long run days!  Certain instruments share engines in which the commands load on the space craft , which means they can never run simultaneously. And many more things like that. The list of details is very long, and developing a merged plan with overlap is going to be a complicated task for us. Everything must be very carefully balanced -- even including time of day that things run. If things begin too early in the day, some instruments would require extra heating -- i.e. more time and power. And of course, the power isn’t simply we have it or we don’t have it. It’s not like a wall switch -- on or off. During the night we are using up the battery stores, and just because the sun came up, doesn’t mean the battery goes ‘bing’ back to full. There’s charging up time from the lowest point in the morning. During mid-day when we are all charged up and any instruments operating are just using the fresh solar power and there’s no battery drain. But we have to carefully make sure to go into every night with enough power to get through and not make major drawers on power in the morning before the batteries have recharged or in the late afternoon before the night we must survive.
There are loads of considerations.

And my last piece of personally exciting news. I found the place that makes Mars watches -- Executive Jewelers in Montrose, CA. There’s a cool guy there who takes mechanical watches and goes in and adjusts it down just exactly right to be on Mars time instead of Earth time. He’s really into what he does, actually. There’s an article on the web by him explaining exactly how he puts the watches on mars time. He’s been doing this since the Rover missions when they all needed Mars watches. He even has a picture of Mars which he then puts as the back ground of the watches. They are beautiful. I got mine and I can’t wait til the next ORT on Mars time. I am all ready now. The only thing is all the watches are men’s watches -- and I’m a rather small woman. The smallest watch I could buy has a face wider than my wrist! But I got him to switch the bands to one that looks at least a bit more feminine. Actually, he had to. With as many links out as it was possible to take, the man’s band couldn’t be made small enough to hold the watch up on my wrist. But all the technical difficulties have been solved and I’ve got the wonderful watch! I think I’ll just set it to the Phoenix site time and wear it now anyhow. I use my cell phone as a pocket watch when I need to know what time it is on Earth!  I just love it!

Keep well in all times,