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Coordinated Observations

by Deborah Bass

May 22, 2008 - Just to keep things in perspective, while in one part of my brain, I'm just waiting and anticipating and getting stomach pains, another part of me is working and moving ahead with things that have to be in place after we land.

I've been working on a really neat set of scientific measurements we call "coordinated observations."  These are sets of actions that the Phoenix lander will peform at the same time as Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)!  

These are scientific observations of the amount of dust and ice in the atmosphere, the distribution of water vapor, the brightness of the surface, things like that.  

To take these measurements, PHX will "look up" at the exact same time MRO "looks down."

Let me make this clear -- two totally unrelated teams with their own way of doing business, their own languages of describing how they do things, their own timelines for getting things done, these two totally different teams have to come together and agree on when and how these measurements will be taken and then execute these exactly as planned to make these observations work.

This is like asking a dog to use a cat tree.  No that's not quite right.  It is like...if one group of friends is playing monopoly and another group of friends is playing yahtzee and you need them to keep rolling the dice until they both get double sixes at the same time!  They are totally different games with totally different pieces and rules but they have to coordinate and roll those dice so they can line up.

Anyway, the MRO team plans in 2 week chunks, so MRO is already planning their observations 2 weeks *after* PHX lands.  So I've been working with the MRO team to get them to look "down" 2 weeks from now, even though PHX hasn't even landed yet!  

The other complication here is that PHX also uses MRO to relay data back to Earth, and for the most part, other data cannot be taken at the same time the relay is going on.  So I have to coordinate within the Phoenix team to make sure we aren't asking MRO to be looking "down" for a science measurement at the same time Phoenix is also asking MRO to relay data--MRO wants to work with Phoenix, but they can't really be expected to manage two competing requests from the same project.

We have to get our ducks in a row internally.

That work is on-going this week, even as we deal with press stuff and final preparations and nerves.  It is good to be able to compartmentalize.