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Amazing

by Patrick Woida

August 15, 2008 -
It simply amazes me how the team keeps charging on. We are currently transitioning to "Earth Time" operations. As it sounds, we're back to a sun-synched existence on Earth. As a consequence, we are taking the downlink (getting data from Mars) and working uplink (sending commands) from being serial to parallel. Up to now, we would downlink the Sol's data, review it, discuss it, come up with a plan for the next day, then build and uplink new sequences. A process often going 14 or more hours from start to finish for the two teams. Now both teams start at nearly the same time and the uplink is planned before we have the data down. It is sort of a hopscotch process of working two days at a time. Each plan needs to be good enough to stand without knowing todays data. Yup, it's tough.

We had expected this to cause something of a slow down or loss in efficiency. But this week we've generated & received a record number of SSI images per Sol (485) and yesterday planned for a record number of sequence commands to SSI for today. Again long (15+ hours) days with plenty of night time science are still being created and we are making more ambitious plans to take advantage of the stellar performance of the hardware and team. We had requirements of one pass of some 50 megabits of data per day, but are regularly bringing down 3 to 4 times that amount of data. We need to keep grabbing more and more relay passes with ODY and MRO orbiters to bring down our treasure of data from Mars.

As you take a moment to assess how we are doing, it still can surprise me what we are accomplishing. After 3 months of perpetual "jet lag" of Mars time, science team debates are still passionate, engineers are still putting in the long hours, you still find lots of folks in on "days off," and the pursuit of excellence in operations endures. It is a very good thing we have some extended mission time, because no one here is prepared to slow down one bit.

There are still the little extra things that go above and beyond duty. Rigel & I gave an update to a couple hundred people last week, we're scheduling another tag up with the folks wintering over at the South Pole next week. Talks at the observatories around Tucson, EPO events, media crews documenting future history.

It shouldn't be a surprise, in over 30 years we are only the 6th successful mission to operate on the surface of Mars, making this a very rare opportunity no one involved would want to pass up or give up on.  I may be the renegade optimist her, but even I fell short in my expectations of what we would accomplish on Phoenix.

All my Best, Pat