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Mars Exploration Program

Martian Diaries

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Onward to Mars!
By Jordan Evans

Jordan Evans
Jordan Evans in the Mars Yard with Curiosity, Spirit/Opportunity, and Sojourner.

It's 4 days until landing. As I drove in to work this morning, I was thinking about the many things that we've fixed on the Mars Science Laboratory over the past 6 years. I find that I'm doing that a lot lately...thinking through all of the issues that we've "caught" on this mission by testing, analyzing, scrutinizing, reviewing, and testing again. It's thought exercises like this that remind me "we are ready." It still gives me a chill when I stop to think that we are landing an incredibly capable machine on the surface of another planet so that it can perform robotic scientific observations very much like a team of scientists with a laboratory full of machines would do on Earth. This is certainly not without risk, but I sleep well at night knowing that our team has done everything we could think of and within reason to do to make this mission a success.

As an engineer, I love problems. Not because I like things going wrong, but because I get to help make things right by fixing the problems! On this project, I've led many problem-solving teams. They are sometimes called "working groups" and, if the problem is of particular importance, they are called "tiger teams." (and, yes, I have had engineers make "kitty cat growling noises" during tiger team meetings to help lighten the mood). These teams have solved problems that put us in a very good position going into this landing.

The Dark Room
The Dark Room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

While the chances of success are good, we still prepare for problems. The operations team has practiced many times using our test rover here on Earth as Curiosity was flying to Mars. These tests included "anomalies" which were invented by some very creative engineers on the team playing the role of "gremlins" during the test. These tests exercised the teams' ability to make decisions, access and analyze the data, develop unplanned command sequences, and still continue to safely and successfully do the mission. The tests also exercised non-engineering parts of the team and helped us answer questions in support of our round-the-clock operations with 400 guest scientists such as "do we have enough trash cans near the control room and where can I order a pizza at 3 o'clock in the morning in Pasadena?"

And now landing is upon us. The team is prepared. The flight vehicle is ready. On landing night, I have the honor of sitting in Mission Control, the "Dark Room," at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to participate in the excitement. A few hours later, I'll then report to work in the Surface Control Room to serve as the "Anomaly Response Lead." The Anomaly Response Lead is responsible for dealing with problems or issues that have come up. While I hope there aren't any problems, I know that we are all prepared for them if they do arise!

Onward to Mars!