Friday, November 9, 2012

Dawn on Charlotte Talks, My NPR Interview

Curiosity's hand print in the soil of a wheel scuff.  The imprint is from the APXS instrument, which measured the elements (e.g. Si, Al, Mg, Fe, etc.) in the soil.

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of going to the annual Geological Society of America meeting in Charlotte, NC.  I presented our preliminary geological map of the Curiosity landing area in Gale Crater, Mars.

Thanks to Justin Samuel, of GSA, I was invited to record an hour-long NPR show with Mike Collins of Charlotte Talks.  It was great fun!  Here's the link: Mars Rover

Joy Cooke already posted a comment on the show asking if I encourage young students to pursue science (Thanks Joy!) - I do, but informally.  I try to share my experiences, but right now, I am almost entirely focused on making sure we use the rover for the best scientific purpose possible.  It's such a capable - and complicated - rover, that we have to have people dedicated to making all of the daily decisions on what to do - down to planning seconds, looking for swapped numbers, making tough choices about what to throw out of plans, etc.

For example, if a command has an error, it can put an instrument in an unsafe state. We then have to evaluate

  1. what happened, 
  2. whether or not any damage was done, 
  3. which data stored on Curiosity we need to request to diagnose the problem,
  4. how to fix the problem, 
  5. how to make up for the things Curiosity didn't do because of the error,
  6. how to change all the commands we were prepared to send to the rover (and make sure there aren't any new errors!)
  7. how to change the plan for the next day, 
  8. how to prepare for the Thanksgiving weekend (when most people actually get a holiday), and
  9. how to keep the problem from happening again
Yesterday, I worked over 12 hours on planning for the next few days plus Thanksgiving observations, and I wasn't the only one!  There were dozens of us.  

Eventually, we get to actually look at the amazingly cool data and learn something about Mars.  Often, the public has more time to look at the beautiful images than the people on the team!  I hope that all people of all ages can enjoy the sense of exploration, adventure, and discovery provided by the Curiosity rover!  It is an amazing international collaboration that people across the world can and should be proud of!

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