NASA AMASE 2008: Day 5 - Sailboat Libra Arrives and Day One of SOWG


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August 8, 2008 / Written by: Jason

Early this morning the sailboat Libra (www.sylibra.no) arrived with the two SAM boxes, as well as down jackets those without - perhaps the critical piece of gear needed for long 'sitting around sampling/taking data' times in the field. Libra is a truly beautiful ship - an approximately 18 meter steel hulled craft built with exquisite care and attention to detail by a German craftsman for his own use, just sailed up to Svalbard by her new owners - one of whom is Lance's Chief Officer, Eilif. She handles easily and is sturdy enough to sail through pack ice without any worries. Down below everything is perfect with beautiful and well built woodwork and stainless steel, an oil burning stove with hot water circulated to the bow and stern keeping all cozy and warm....I had serious thoughts of stowing away but duty called. She made excellent time from Longyearbyen even though she encountered pack ice on the way - sailed expertly by Sverre-Oistein, Mette, and Unni.

We offloaded the boxes and Jen and Pan went into high gear to bring the SAM GCMS fully up and running including pyrolysis capability - heaters and thermocouple temperature sensors were installed to the gas distribution manifold to bring online the injection system - then leakchecking and getting it all up and running and calibrated.

Today was the first day of simulated Mars Rover Operations (called the Science Operations Working Group, or SOWG). This is a carefully setup and choreographed exercise involving almost every AMASEr as well as the ship's crew in support - where one team, kept 'blind' to anything outside of the operations room on board ship, receives and analyzes data, selects rock targets, makes operational decisions, and generates command sequences using the same procedures and a truncation of the same tactical flow as used for NASA's Mars rovers. A second team goes into the field with the JPL CliffBot Rover, the WISDOM ground penetrating radar, the remote sensing instruments and the contact instruments - with runners from shore to ship to bring samples to additional analytical instruments - all this appears to the operations team to be a single autonomous rover on Mars.

Steve gave us an inspiring and deeply insightful introduction to the task in front of us - doing field science work not with one's own hands, eyes, and mind as we had been doing the last days, but remotely through the eyes and instruments of a Rover and with the combined brainpower of a team of scientists and engineers - all under a terribly tight time constrained schedule. He could have taught us all the techniques he and the MER Rover operations team developed over the last several years, but instead followed a different and much more effective strategy. He set up the problem and just threw us as a novice operations team into it to sink or swim - so that we had to experience first hand all the initial failures and successes and work out solutions in a very intense and high pressure environment - heightened by the knowledge that there was a whole team of your friends out in the field freezing and waiting for your uploaded sol's (martian day's) commands. Garret and Torbjorn set up a datalink from the field team to the operations room on board and we were off and running.

Steve took the role of mission manager - our only contact with the Rover on 'Mars' and Alan was the SOWG chair for day one. I had the roll of Keeper of the Plan (KOP) - capturing the ongoing analysis and plan development and gathering all the pieces to assemble the command sequence. The scientists in the SOWG split up into science theme groups - as MSL is doing for the next Mars rover mission. We were allocated two strictly enforced hours between receipt of data from the previous sol's downlink and the deadline for uplink of the commands. We blew our first sol as Mars rover operators when the two hour deadline hit us without the plan finished and ready to upload- and all felt very bad about this, and guilty about our comrades out in the field freezing. At this point Ashley came to our rescue particularly to my rescue, with a half hour critique session - injecting a few direct and critical pointers and giving us the benefit of her thousands of hours of MER operations. The second sol went vastly better and soon we were clicking along in high gear, analyzing the data generated by activities we had commanded the previous sol and rapidly putting together a plan of attack to move towards our mission objective of selecting and caching samples for return to Earth. Also our guilt was somewhat assuaged when the Rover/Instrument field team were sent soup and hot chocolate. Day one of the SOWG was extremely intense, exciting and challenging - indeed a peak experience for all of us, and we on the operations floor are exhausted but eager to pick up again tomorrow.

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