Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Multimedia Extravaganza! Including William Shatner!

Okay, so William Shatner is my favorite narrator!  Just watch this video!  It doesn't get any better, ever!  (Except maybe his recital of Sara Palin's speech...)  Maybe Wil Wheaton is pretty good, too!

I suspect those of you at UCDavis are particularly fond of Shatner, having rubbed elbows with him at the transit of Venus so recently!

And then there's the rest of us:

JPL has great YouTube playlists called "The Challenges of Getting to Mars", "Cruising with Curiosity", and "Mars in a Minute".  Also, watch "The Science of Curiosity.

And for text, Ryan Anderson has a great blog:  Martian Chronicles, and Emily Lakdawalla has been blogging about space for years, and all her posts are great:  Snapshots from Space


PS:  Making it well past 3 am tonight in my quest for pre-landing time shifts!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Paper on the MSL Mission to Date

John Grotzinger and a number of team members have just published a summary of the MSL mission to date in Space Science Reviews:  http://www.springerlink.com/content/2234421w50090w9u/?MUD=MP  This (open access) paper describes the science goals of the mission, the choice of landing site, and the science instruments.  It's a handy guide to what's going on - and will take hours to digest!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Jim Green's Post to the Planetary Exploration Newsletter

Dear Friends,

NASA's budget has been cut so badly that most of the planetary missions in the planning stages are threatened with no funding.  Jim Green sent out the message forwarded below to the planetary science community.  As a NASA employee, he can't encourage you to take part in political actions.  However, he alludes to the budgetary dangers that threaten future planetary exploration.  If Curiosity and the MSL team provide an exceptionally successful scientific mission with lots of public support, there might be more support in congress for future planetary exploration.  Thus, enjoy the mission and let your political representatives know how important it is to you and your friends.

Just to put the costs in perspective:  MSL is an exceptionally expensive mission, projected to cost ~$2.5 billion over 10 years (8 years of development and 2 years of mission).  That is a lot of money.  However, it is a tiny bit of money compared to many other things our government spends (wastes?) money on.  For example, 1 day of war in Iraq cost ~$720 million, so the entire MSL mission will cost the rough equivalent of 3.5 days of war (see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Financial_cost_of_the_Iraq_War).  Some politicians argue that the money spent on war goes mostly to American companies, etc., etc.  The same is true for planetary exploration missions.  They also develop new technology.  And unlike war, they do not take people's lives and they do inspire young scientists and engineers.  

May the people of the world explore the planets together!


PS:  It's my early evening equivalent time: 11 pm, target bed time:  3 am again.  I barely made it last night.


Volume 6, Number 33 (July 29, 2012)

Editor: Susan Benecchi 
Co-Editors: Mark V. Sykes, Melissa Lane
Email: pen_editor at psi.edu

o---------------------------SPECIAL EDITION---------------------------o


James L. Green, Director Planetary Science, NASA

One week from today, our community will be forever changed, one way or 
the other, no matter what. The landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover at 
Gale Crater occurs at 1:31 AM (Easter Daylight Time) and it will be a history 
event. Curiosity is our latest flagship mission and it demands all of 
our attention. This feat represents the most difficult entry, descent, 
and landing (what is known as EDL) of a planetary science rover ever 
attempted, anywhere.  As you may already know, the historical success 
rate at the planet Mars is only 40%. Although our landing percentage 
odds are higher (100%), successful landing with an unproven, next 
generation, landing system…well, that will be a white-knuckle-
experience to say the least.

One short week away is the crescendo of the "Martian - Year of the 
Solar System." In addition to planetary's two years of success; for 
the MSL team, it's the culmination of over 8 long years of effort. 
Frankly, the future of the Mars program and perhaps planetary science 
is at stake. It goes without saying that we are in trying budgetary 

Each one of us in the planetary science community should appreciate, 
understand, and take ownership of this event. We should discuss 
Curiosity's Landing to our friends, neighbors, and colleagues.  
Whether you are part of the Mars program or not, I encourage you 
to become aware of what will happen in one week and talk to your own 
"network" of family and friends. At the very least, watch the 
"7 Minutes of Terror" video on Youtube, and hear firsthand what will 
occur. Beginning tomorrow, an animation will be available showcasing 
EDL on our Eyes On Solar System website:

An entire "toolkit" has been created to assist you in raising 
awareness and communicating all aspects of this incredible mission 
and the EDL event at: 

If you are hosting a landing event or are looking to participate 
in an event near you, please go to www.nasa.gov/mars to find a 
location before the landing. Or, during the landing, watch it, live, 
online at that same site. For Curiosity and planetary science on 
August 6th, one way or another, our world will not be the same.

* The Planetary Exploration Newsletter is issued approximately weekly.
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Getting Ready...

I'm starting to shift my schedule to prepare for Curiosity's landing.  I am Long Term Planner for the first 4 sols (martian days), which requires that I work from about midnight to 10 am four days in a row, starting Monday morning, August 6.  I have a plan to shift my sleep schedule an hour or two later every day.  Tonight, my goal is to stay up until 3 am and sleep until 11 am.  Last night, 2 am was fine.  Tonight, it's 12:30 am, and I'm having trouble staying awake...  It's one thing to do it one day; it's another to shift to a night schedule for several days - but people do it all the time when assigned to the "graveyard shift".  Now it's my turn...

One advantage of being up late is that other mission people are, too.  I just got an e-mail update on Curiosity's cruise, which led me to this press release:  Curiosity's Daily Update  Curiosity's last course correction maneuver was successful, and we are on track for an excellent landing!

By the way, I did an interview with BBC radio, which will be part of their radio show Discovery to air August 6th if the landing is successful.  It was fun and interesting to talk about the science we can do with Curiosity.  Each little thing like this makes the mission seem more real, and it will be in 8 days minus 2 hours!

The "Thermal Inertia" of the landing ellipse in Gale Crater.  Thermal inertia is related to how much heat a substance absorbs.  Denser rocks have a higher thermal inertia than loose sand.  The red areas probably have hard rock.  The light blue band running through the east of the ellipse shows the location of sand dunes.  Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

MSL News Conferences

News conferences and the live NASA feed of landing have now been officially scheduled (see below).  These may change depending on mission results, but all can be watched live or recorded on NASA TV and on the Web at http://www.nasa.gov/ntv

Times are in EDT (PDT)

August 2, Thursday
1 p.m. (10 am)- NASA Science News Conference - MSL Mission Science Overview - JPL (All Channels)
2 p.m. (11 am) - NASA Science News Conference - Mission Engineering Overview - JPL (All Channels)

August 3, Friday
6 - 10 a.m. (3-7 am) - Live Satellite Interviews on Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Landing - JPL (Public and Media Channels)
12:30 - 2:30 p.m. (9:30 - 11:30 am) - NASA Social for the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Landing - JPL (Education Channel)
5:30 - 9:30 p.m. (2:30-7:30 pm) - Live Satellite Interviews on Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Landing - JPL (Public and Media Channels)

August 4, Saturday
12:30 - 1:30 p.m. (9:30-11:30 am) - NASA Science News Conference - Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Mission Status and Entry, Descent and Landing Overview - JPL (All Channels)

August 5, Sunday
12:30 - 1:30 p.m. (9:30-11:30 am)- NASA Science News Conference Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Pre-Landing News Conference - Rover Communication overview - JPL (All Channels)
6 - 7 p.m. (3-4 pm) - NASA Science News Conference - NASA Science Mission Directorate - JPL (All Channels)
11 p.m. (8 pm) - Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Landing Coverage of Entry Decent and Landing (Commentary #1 Begins 11:30 p.m.) - JPL (Public and Education Channels)
11 p.m. (8 pm) - Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Landing Coverage of Entry Decent and Landing (Clean Feed with Mission Audio Only) - JPL (Media Channel)

August 6, Monday
NET - 2:15 a.m. (11:15 pm Aug 5) - Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Post-Landing News Conference - JPL (All Channels)
3:30 - 4:30 a.m. (12:30-1:30 am) - Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Landing Coverage and Commentary - Commentary #2 - (First Post-Landing Communication Session/Odyssey Downlink) - JPL (All Channels)
6 - 10 a.m. (3-7 am) - Live Satellite Post Landing Interviews on the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Mission - JPL (Public and Media Channels)
12 p.m. (9 am) - Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Post-Landing News Briefing - Landing Recap and Sol 1 Outlook - JPL(All Channels)
7 p.m. (4 pm) - Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Post-Landing News Briefing - Sol 1 Mid-Day Update - JPL (All Channels)

August 7, Tuesday
1 p.m. (11 am) - Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Post-Landing News Briefing - Sol 2 Update - JPL (All Channels)

August 8, Wednesday
1 p.m. (11 am) - Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Post-Landing News Briefing - Sol 3 Update - JPL (All Channels)

August 9, Thursday
1 p.m. (11 am) - Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Post-Landing News Briefing - Sol 4 Update - JPL (All Channels)

August 10, Friday
1 p.m. (11 am) - Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity Rover Post-Landing News Briefing - Sol 5 Update - JPL (All Channels)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Odyssey in Position to Watch Curiosity!

One of the concerns about "watching" Curiosity land has been put to rest.  The Mars orbiter Odyssey can relay data from Curiosity to Earth in real time, but the other two orbiters (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Express) will also watch, but will send back their observations at a later time.  Thus, we need Odyssey to know what happened during Curiosity on the night it lands.  But...  There was a fault on Odyssey a month or more ago, and the Odyssey team had to figure out what caused it sufficiently well to be willing to move Odyssey into position.  When something may be going wrong, you don't want to make something worse.  The Odyssey team has been working very hard for this moment - and they decided to try and successfully completed moving the orbiter for Curiosity.  It can watch the landing and beam data back to us.  If both Odyssey and Curiosity are eager to talk to each other, e.g. the data rate is high, we'll get a picture or maybe several on landing night.

Monday, July 23, 2012

First Images - When to expect them

Emily Lakdawalla writes the most interesting things in the best possible way.  Here is her analysis of when we'll see the first images from Curiosity:  http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2012/07231608-curiosity-first-images.html  Emily describes why it's uncertain with more clarity than I understood it before reading her blog.  And it's exciting to read.

Also, check out the side column called "Rover Wisdom".

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Curiosity Sampling

A couple of weeks ago, the MSL team put Curiosity's terrestrial twin through its paces with an "end-to-end" sampling exercise.  In a room at JPL, the twin drilled a rock, collected powder, and delivered it to an instrument.  It was the first time the full sequence had been performed in order!  There are some great images of the test on the LA times web site: 
From the LA Times article:  A rover replica...
For more, see: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0715mars-curiosity-landing-pictures,0,5702122.photogallery

More and more information is accumulating on the web about the landing.  Here are some of the links:

1. Emily Lakdawalla blog post about MARDI, 20 July 2012.  http://www.planetary.org/blogs/emily-lakdawalla/2012/msl-mardi.html

MARDI is one of the cameras that I've watched go from just an idea to an outstanding scientific instrument.  It's main purpose is to take pictures during decent, recording the later part of the 7 minutes of terror.  It won't see anything until the heat shield is jettisoned.  However, after that point, it will take the first ever movie of landing on Mars!  We will use these images to place the rover in context in the first few days, and we expect to get many great scientific results from its images.

From Emily's blog:  
Test image from Curiosity MARDI containing Ken Edgett
2. Curiosity's Daily Update: Curiosity Completes Week of Onboard Computer Preps  http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/news/whatsnew/index.cfm?FuseAction=ShowNews&NewsID=1260

Innumerable details go into the computer programs that run Curiosity.  Software development and debugging are always ongoing.  This link gives a day-by-day taste of some of the things the engineers are looking into with the software.  It's bad enough when your personal computer reboots when you're almost done with that long document.  When it happens when you are accessing the hard drive, the whole file can be corrupted.  Now imagine rebooting during landing on another planet - we need a backup that will take command immediately.  There is one...

3.  Follow Your Curiosity: Some New Ways to Explore Mars  http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/news/whatsnew/index.cfm?FuseAction=ShowNews&NewsID=1253

This is the link to the X-box game for landing on Mars that was covered in the press conference on last Monday.  I heard it was great.  I personally missed the press conference because I witnessed a car accident and stopped to help in case someone was injured.  Luckily, everyone was okay, but I spent an hour standing by the side of a freeway rather than watching the press conference!  You can get the game free here:  http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-US/Product/Mars-Rover-Landing/66acd000-77fe-1000-9115-d80258480836

4.  NASA's Car-Sized Rover Nears Daring Landing On Mars  http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/news/whatsnew/index.cfm?FuseAction=ShowNews&NewsID=1252

This is the press release that went with the press conference...

5.  MSL Landing Press Kit:  http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/news/newsroom/

And everything else you wanted to know (almost) is in the press kit!


What fun!!!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Practice, practice, practice...

I've been in Pasadena working to prepare for landing, working on Mars time.  This means I tried to go to sleep at 6 pm last night, got up at 11 pm and went to work at midnight.  I'll be the Long Term Planner (LTP) for the first few "sols" (martian days) on Mars, and we are doing tests on that schedule.  One of my main jobs is to promote good science - how much better does it get than that?  After working 10+ hours, I went back to my hotel and managed to sleep for a couple of hours, but not well.  I've been dozing until now.  7 pm, and I'll get up for breakfast.  I don't have to be at work again until midnight, so I'll probably go for a walk around Caltech until then.  This time, it's only for 2 nights, I'll be on this schedule for the first four days of the real mission, but martian days are longer than Earth days, so our schedule will rotate with Mars time - and someone else will rotate in at LTP.  At that point, my time will be more flexible, but I'll still be working hard with others following up on the science that needs to be done.

Many people have survived Mars time before (and being LTP!).  I'm fairly good at changing time zones, so it will probably be interesting, but not too bad.  It was really nice to eat dinner outside in the early light this morning.

Here are a couple of interesting links: 

This looks like a really cool App for iPads and iPhones.  I don't have either, but know people who do.  If you are one of those, show it to me!


Added note: A photo from my dad of the iPad app at work:

Friday, July 6, 2012

MAHLI Paper Published!

I am a co-investigator on several scientific cameras, including the MArs Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI).  It is a fantastic camera, and you can now read all about it in great detail at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11214-012-9910-4.  The MAHLI Principle Investigator, Ken Edgett, put in a major effort to get this paper published while also preparing for the mission and doing his other work.  He is also dedicated to open access publication, like many of us, so EVERYONE can read about MAHLI and what we can do with it on Mars.  Congratulations to Ken!

The MAHLI calibration target; see the press release at the JPL MSL web site.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Martian dune buggy

Here's a great video of a "scarecrow" version of Curiosity climbing up a sandy slope in Dumont Dunes.  Scott Maxwell (JPL, twitter @marsroverdriver) narrates the video.  Scott will be one of several stellar rover drivers that will help make sure that Curiosity can actually do what we ask it to on the surface of Mars.

Steep sandy slopes are a challenge for any vehicle!  Watch how the wheels slip.  And on Mars, there is no one to pile out of the rover with a shovel to help.  I have vivid memories of sand in a canyon in Namibia that include shovels, frustration, incautious driving, wood and rocks under wheels...  

Mike Malin (MastCam and MARDI PI) at the Dumont Dunes test.

Monday, July 2, 2012

NASA MSL Social Event

NASA is holding a social media event at 5 of its centers on Aug 3 to spread the news about MSL.  NASA is looking for people with a strong presence on social media to go to one of the centers for special events:  http://www.nasa.gov/connect/social/social_curiosity_multi_aug2012.html  I suspect most of you don't want to go.  However, I think the idea is to have a social media blitz on MSL.  Thus, Aug 3 would be a great day to look for MSL information on Twitter, in blogs, and on other social media sites.  Here's the NASA response to the question:
What if I cannot come to the event?
If you cannot come to the NASA centers to attend in person, you should not register for the NASA Social. You can follow the conversation using the #NASASocial hashtag on Twitter. JPL may broadcast a portion of the program with live chat onhttp://ustream.tv/NASAJPL .
If you cannot make this NASA Social, don't despair; NASA is planning others in the near future at various locations. Check back on http://www.nasa.gov/social for updates.

On the theme of 4th of July, NASA has a press release about the Spirt of 76 pyrotechnics that will fire on Curiosity after it lands on Mars.  http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.cfm?release=2012-192  Many parts of the rover, such as the wheels, are all packed up during flight.  To break those packing bonds, the engineers set off "firecrackers".  The ones that hold the wheels are fired after the rover starts to be lowered to the surface, but before the wheels touch down.  (This reminds me that many of you are new to the list: watch this video:  http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/index.cfm?id=1090 called 7 Minutes of Terror about landing!)

A few little updats

These are from Ken Edgett, MAHLI PI:

A few little updates:

1a. Somehow this slipped by me. From the LA Times on 11 May 2012, featuring Grotzinger and Edgett:

Scientists discuss rover's upcoming mountain climb on Mars


2. From 26 June 2012:
  Curiosity Rover on Track for Early August Landing

3. LA Times' Amina Khan joined us in the rover testbed last Friday (22 June) and she tweeted some pictures, etc.:

7 minutes of terror

Here's a very dramatic video about landing on Mars:


Amy and I just got back from 2 days of training at JPL.  We worked on designing camera activities (MastCam for me, and MastCam and MAHLI for Amy) based on image requests from the science theme groups.  We learned a lot about how the process of deciding what the rover is asked to do as well as what it can actually do.  It seems more and more real every time.

Mars Time

Here's a nice article on Mars time (except that they made a bad assumption about when MSL will land - the real time is about 22:30 Aug 5):  http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-03/how-do-you-tell-time-mars

New landing ellipse!

NASA announced today that the MSL landing ellipse is smaller and closer to the strata of interest in Mount Sharp.  The ellipse is now oval, rather than spherical, and it's shape reflect results of substantial montecarlo modeling of the entry, decent, and landing (EDL) system.  

Rover Tests

Mike Malin is the PI of the scientific cameras, and that's the team I'm on.

Dawn on Mars

I'm not going to Mars.  It's too far.  It's too cold, even for someone who works in Antarctica.  However, I will speak about my experiences "on Mars" through the rover Curiosity, our remote eyes and hands.  Stay tuned!