MER press briefing, February 12, 2004

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February 12, 2004[edit]

10:15 A.M. (PST)

Natalie: It's about 3am at Gusev and about 3 in the afternoon at the Opportunity site. We'll have updates on the rovers as well information about the Mars educational program.

Art Thompson: Very pleased to report that we have two very busy rovers on the surface of Mars and that translates to two very busy operations teams. Report card on Spirit is that she's in outstanding health. For the past 7 days Spirit has been a fully functional science platform with absolutely no ill effects from earlier memory problems. Current big picture plan to drive to Bonneville crater 340 meters away. We have started the drive and completed approximately 58 meters of that traverse. 3 successful sol drives. Sol 36 we did 6 meter drive. On sol 37 we did 27 meter drive and I'd like to show a movie on the Hazcam as we performed that drive. Snapshots, not realtime, much faster than we go. We're also taking a bunch of images and making a goodness map which tells us where it's safe to traverse. This second video shows colors, green and yellow are safe, orange and red are areas the rover will want to avoid. Taken from today's 24 meter drive on sol 39. On sol 38 HGA was shaded by the PMA early in the morning so we lost the morning session and didn't get the drive done. Successful at commanding LGA and HGA sessions later in the day (yesterday) and did in fact drive today to a place we're calling Stone Council. The plan is to be attempting to drive to Bonneville and maximize our ability to maximize driving per sol. We'll be staying at Stone Council for a day and doing in situ measurements with the instruments on the IDD. At Opportunity, we're cruising the outcrop. Doing a survey of the outcrop. Started at a place called Stone Mountain. This overhead picture shows the targets, Stone Mountain, then Alpha, then Bravo and Charlie. We were successful at getting to Charlie. We did experience significant slippage early and have studied that and corrected to overdrive up-slope and underdrive downlslope. We pretty much understand the slippage problem. At targets we spend the night, then first thing in the morning do Pancam and an IDD touch and go with MI and Mossbauer, then stow the IDD and drive to the next target. The only problem at Opportunity is that on sol 18 one of the ground modeling tools didn't accurately reflect and we failed to complete the master sequence as planned and so we corrected and executed today. Longer-term to drive over to Sand Patch which has a higher hematite concentration. On sol 21 we'll prep to trench. On sol 22 we'll trench. On sol 23 we'll stick the IDD into the trench and on sol 24 drive to a place we're calling El Capitan.

Mark Lemmon: Images we've been getting from MI at both sites have been fabulous. But there's much more than meets the eye in these images. This image shows the MI and the white arrow points to the lens. The yellow disk is the lens cover that keeps dust from the MI and it is semi-transparent so we can take images through it. First video shows the type of images we take with MI. We usually take a series of 5 images to make sure that one is in focus. MI has a 4 mm depth of field. The series of images is also useful for determining depth, topography. By looking at focus we can build 3-D models of the topography. We've looked at the floor of the crater itself and it's exciting. In particular, this area is covered by finescale sandgrains and these irregular grains coming down from the outcrop potentially and the most spectacular are these rounded spherules being called blueberries because they're relatively bluer than their surroundings. They're actually the size of a bb. This technique of looking with multiple images can also give us anaglyphs. The next still shows a place where the Mossbauer has pushed one of those spherules down into the sand. The other thing we can do is go beyond the anaglyphs so we can push the process and this video shows the best way we have of looking at this kind of terrain. Zoom in from Navcam to color Pancam to MI image. This scene was built from that focal series. This is a depth map video. These are the highest resolution topo maps we've taken of another planet.

Don Banfield: Tough act to follow but I'm going to tell you about some atmospheric studies. Critical because there was concern about the atmosphere during landings. MER rovers giving us good profile data of the atmosphere which should help in future landings. Also, currently the agent of geologic change on Mars is wind. In the past with Viking and Pathfinder we had temperature data at only about this 1-1.5 meter off the surface. With the MER rovers we can use mini-TES to look at the thermal emission of the atmosphere. Much richer dataset. Mini-TES designed originally to look down but can look 30° up. Mike Smith put together the algorithms to build this graph. This is a plot of temperature across time, an 8 or 9 minute block of time after 10 am local solar on sol 12 at the Spirit site. New way to use Mini-TES. We hadn't even thought of this until we got to the surface. Stare up at the sky and every 2 seconds, looking up at the sky take a spectrum and get a profile. Red line is temp at 500 m up, -51°C -58°F Yellow line is temp at 30 meters up. Both lines slowly trending upwards. Red line jitters are just noise but the yellow line has huge jumps on a minute time scale. This is a significant change. This second plot shows the same temperature as a function of time and altitude above the surface on the Y axis up to 1 kilometer. Seeing warm and cold blobs passing over the rover down near the surface. We think that the ground is warming, transmitting heat to atmosphere, warm rises and goes up to 100 meters and gives its heat up to the rest of the atmosphere and then there's a cold blob that comes down. You're watching the boiling of the atmosphere. It's really convection. This is really exciting data that will allow us to much better constrain the models that were used to understand the winds that were a danger at the landing sites.

Sheri Klug: I'm here today because we're highlighting opportunities to tie in the surface mission with NASA's overall goal of trying to inspire the next generation of explorers. A first, landing during the school year. Providing lots of ways classrooms can participate. There are opportunities like being able to send in rocks from your back yard. Over 1000 rocks sent in so far. Children learning about rocks on Earth and rocks on Mars. Tying in to the students' curriculum. We have a program called rover quest which are classroom activities that follow along with the rover, the science discoveries, authentic data. Cooler than just a textbook lesson. We have some specific examples. First slide shows the Mars Exploration Student Data Team using the orbiters, Odyssey and MGS, 25 states involved, looking at landing sites, characterizing the weather, etc, real science in real time, amazing experience, the real stuff, real science, in real time. Next video shows Mars Student Imaging project, about 1.5 years old, almost 3800 students, 5th grade through college, using real tools, targeting actual locations and imaging Mars, and doing analysis and delivering that to NASA. More Mars missions coming up, hope to replicate this every 26 months for the longterm. Exciting for us and the teachers across the country. Red Rover Goes to Mars program highlight as well as the Onsight Participation program.

Wendy Calvin: I'm here as a mentor in the Athena student intern program. Kathy Bowman's brainchild. Approx. 15 students. I got involved to bring my experiences back to highschool. A good chance to show kids you could end up some place you never through you might have. Good way to bring NASA and NASA science into rural communities, small towns. Reward has been to learn how to teach. I have a research position at the university, but not teaching. This is the real stuff. They're using the same tools we are. I'd really like to thank Kathy Bowman for the inspiration, organization, all the legwork, logistics, allowing us, as mentors, to focus on interpersonal communication with the students.

Shannon Theissen (highschool student): When I came here I was not expecting to actually be working with the scientists. I thought I'd be put aside and come as they want me to. But. I actually got to work with the scientists. Wendy has been an awesome mentor. We actually work on the computer with her. You don't have to be a scientist or an engineer to work for JPL or NASA. There's many different jobs. If you want to be part of it, follow your dreams and go for it. It's a great opportunity for any student so if you want to be part of it, go for it.

Q. (this woman from ABC, I think, clearly hasn't been following this mission closely). I'm fascinated. Will you guys put the 3-D images up on the website. These 3-D images are going to be the story of the day. This 3-D stuff is just fascinating. I've never seen anything like it. These glasses. I'm assuming website hits is going to just continue to grow.

Mark: yes. MI is spectacular. Ken Herkinhoff at USGS did just a great job. I never thought that the 3-D products would be this cool. I'm surprised that website interest has continued to grow. Glad for the mission.

Q. Shannon, what inspired you to pursue this?

Shannon: started out in a robotics class. When I got used to it and my teacher said I'd have an opportunity to come to JPL and do that, I was very excited.

Wendy: Teachers are selected and then the teachers pick the best and brightest students. After the internship, they snowball out and go talk to elementary schools and talk about it.

Q. Opportunity, what's the strategic thinking for after you climb out of the crater?

Art: from an engineering perspective, we serve the science community. We'll do what they tell us to do. We can't tell you when.

Mark: I think you've named some of the subjects of the debate. We've kind of figured out the path we want to follow to get out of this crater. Then there will be a discussion about the targets, the blocks or the crater. A chance to hit more than one, look forward to having a rover and debates like that.

Wendy: We're starting to get some high-res from Mike Malin's MOC of areas outside of the crater. Those images still coming down. No decision yet.

Q. What's been done to Spirit to avoid that antenna glitch? What's the latest thinking on what formed the layers in the rock at Opportunity and any more on the blueberries composition.

Art: This is a problem when you've got a dynamic vehicle. We were working around the problem but when we got driving the antenna actuator got much cooler and so it failed the calibration maneuver. Now we do that in the afternoon when it's warmer. We have a group that anticipates these types of things and we just missed this one and it cost us a morning.

Mark: I can't tell you what it is but I can tell you that we've seen some indications. We haven't gone beyond the MI including the RAT. With the data we're collecting right now, we're going to choose the sites we want to go back to.

Q. You canceled trenching last week. There was a test that failed. How confident are you that you're going to be able to trench on Mars.

Art: I wasn't involved in that test in the testbed. Mission management is confident they've worked out the details for trenching.

Q. Can you talk some more about what you can infer from temperature spikes and have you seen any dust devils? Seen this from orbit before?

Don: Haven't seen any dust devils yet. Thermals aren't surprising. Interesting to see them on Mars. Will be able to better understand the winds on Mars. We have TES in orbit which tells us temp looking down but that doesn't do a very good job telling us about the bottom 5 kilometers. Mini-TES can do a pretty good job looking up to 5 kilometers so they compliment each other. MGS is going to fly right over Opportunity and we're going to put a sequence on Opportunity to look up to the spacecraft in orbit so we'll be studying the same patch of air from surface and from orbit.

Mark: Pathfinder told a similar story.

Q. Do you see any signs of fossil life or water formation in those little round blueberries? How long will you study this?

Mark: nothing that leads us to conclude that water had to be involved.

Wendy: we've seen nothing in microbiology. I'm stumped. We'll be looking at data from this mission for at least the next decade.

Q. Can you go into more detail on the Opportunity glitch? Terribly unusual?

Art: we have a ground tool that models all of our actuations. We do a detailed analysis. The wrist can rotate just like your hand. We were trying to approach the target underhanded and we hit a hard stop. We should have rotated over and approached it from above. It was a ground tool modeling we didn't catch. No damage. Had to spend another day there. Understanding the positioning of the IDD and where the target is and which face we want to hit, we have a group that's spent years practicing this but we missed this one.

Q. Can you talk more about Sand Patch and El Capitan?

Wendy: El Capitan seems to have two distinct colors and some interesting morphology. Sand Patch has higher hematite abundance and hoping to trench through there and do IDD work, x-ray and Mossbauer on it.

Q. Sounds miraculous what you can do with this mini-TES data. Can you explain more about how that's done. Could you give a specific example or two of the kinds of work these students are doing.

Don: It's not easy. Magic that Mike Smith has put together. Mars atmosphere is CO2. CO2 has an absorption feature at a particular wavelength, 15 microns, very red, infra-red light and around that wavelength the atmosphere is very opaque. As you go shortward or longward of that the atmosphere is less opaque. So if you look at the emission temperature at the middle of this absorption feature, you're seeing the temperature very close to the rover, down at like 30 meters above the rover. If you look at colors either side of this strong absorption feature, you're seeing higher and higher up into the atmosphere. So the idea is you translate the spectrum of temperature as a function of wavelength into temperature as a function of altitude.

Sheri: One group of students given a unique set of tasks. Trying to predict temperature, overflights and looking at THEMIS morphology. They had to design the experiments on their on. 54 teams around the country, communicating through electronic bulletin boards, an amazing collaboration.

Natalie: next briefing Tuesday at 10:00 am.

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