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These journal entries were written by the Centaurus High School team during their week at JPL.


02/01/04 (notes from Dr. Haynes, teacher): We arrived at 9:15 PST (Pacific Standard Time).† Dr. Bill Farrand, our mentor who works on the science team with the geochemistry and mineralogy group, met us at the gate to be sure we knew how to get into the mission-related areas we will be calling home most of the next week.† He is working a shift as ?PDL? (Payload Downlink Lead) with the Spirit rover.

On our way into our work area on the sixth floor of Building 626, by Steve Squyres, Principle Investigator (or PI) of the Athena science mission, called us over to view brand new images that were just received from the Opportunity rover.† We huddled into Dr. Squyres? office with Dr. Farrand to see some fantastic images of very spherical, 2 millimeter diameter ?balls? that were taken by the Panoramic Camera (Pancam).† Dr. Squyres was extremely excited about these small, regular, evenly spaces particles that are scattered all over the 20 meter wide crater at the rover?s current location.† Dr. Squyres is a very dedicated scientist who enjoys sharing these wonderful discoveries with us, and we are thrilled he does! He calls it ?Christmas Every Day? here on the science team at JPL. It will also be very interesting to see how this new discovery unfolds over the week we are here.

We moved on with Dr. Farrand to the area where science operations are headquartered for Spirit.† Dr. Farrand works in a small room with a half dozen other science workstations. All workstations have 2 large screens to hold all of the information that is being used at any one time.† Sometimes even 2 screens are not enough!† Dr. Farrand also works a lot from his laptop computer and transfers images with a ?memory stick? so that images can be transported or analyzed separately. He put Mark and Miranda to work on the laptop we brought piecing together images from the pancam on the rock outcropping in front of Opportunity.† Mark and Miranda took the images and pieced them together to make one continuous image.† Then, the task is to use an image program to outline some of the rocks so that they can be seen in a presentation to the science team.† The first time with the software and the laptop we brought was more time consuming than subsequent ones will be.

Two different science meetings interrupted the image analysis during the sol (martian day).†† The first was a science context meeting for the Spirit rover. This meeting is used primarily for planning the current sol.† The rover is close to being ?healthy? now following some software issues, but the science is not yet in nominal (normal) mode.† Planning was done for use of the Mini-TES and instruments on the robotic arm (or Instrument Deployment Device??IDD?) over the next 3-5 days, if all goes well.

At 16:30 LST (local time for the Spirit rover), we attended a science assessment meeting.† Scientists discussed at length the benefits of brushing versus using the Rock Abrasion Tool (RAT) on the rock called Adirondack, where the rover and its arm have been parked during the last two weeks during it?s software problems.† Brushing takes only about 10 minutes and a lot less precious energy than using the RAT.† Images and data will be taken before and after this procedure to determine the amount and properties of the very common atmospheric dust on the planet.† Once this is done, the decision has been made to do a RAT procedure to remove about 1-2 millimeters of the surface of this rock.† This takes about 4 hours, a lot of energy and time. In analyzing the data before and after this procedure, scientists hope to determine a lot about the way the particles of rock are cemented together, the mineralogy of the bulk of the rock, and the effect of texture on the earlier measurements.† We also learned about ?IDD science? vs ?Traverse science?.† Some scientists mainly study things close-up on a specific rock, such as Adirondack, using the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS), microscopic imager and Mössbauer spectrometer.† Other scientists are more interested in a broader view of the area around the landing site, which can be studied with the Pancam and Mini-TES instruments.† There are always compromises and scientists end up with a consensus that benefits everyone and gives the whole mission a good balance of science and observation.

Time is an interesting commodity within the science team at JPL.† On earth, there are many times, as can be seen with the clocks displaying times around the world at the airport.† It is more confusing when all of the events on the science team are correlated with either Spirit or Opportunity on Mars. The time difference between these sites and ?Earth Time? keeps changing with the difference in the rotation periods of the two planets (a day on Mars is between 39 and 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth).

After the last meeting, Mark and Miranda finished working on image analysis of the rock outcrop.† It is very satisfying to go back to the apartment with a job accomplished on only the first day.† Dr. Farrand seemed very happy with the image! We are due back at 4:30 a.m. Pacific Time for a science assessment meeting on Opportunity, where this new mineralogy information will be presented, and probably some other new thoughts and findings.† We are told to get our sleep!

02/01/04 (notes from Mark): We woke up this morning and got ready to go to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).† I finally got my first experience of JPL when we arrived a little after 9:00 AM Pacific Standard Time (PST).† We met with our mentor, Dr. Bill Farrand, at the guard gate.† He works with the panoramic camera (or Pancam) and with the mineralogy and geochemistry science group on the Spirit rover, or MER-A.

Upon bringing us to our building, he took us to the science headquarters for the Spirit rover.† He then showed us an area where we will be working the rest of the week.† We then went another floor to settle into the ASIP office, where we will spend much of our time the rest of the week working.

We went back down to the science headquarters and the pancam operations room, where Dr. Farrand works with a few other scientists.† He told us a little bit about what he was doing, introduced us to a few scientists, then quickly put Miranda and me to work.† Although Dr. Farrand is scheduled to work on the Spirit team, he is interested in the data coming from the Opportunity rover as well.† At his small office, he gave us a few images from the Opportunity pancam of the outcrop of the small crater.† The images had been adjusted to allow us to see this mineral composition of the rocks, including the rock outcrop.

We used some image software to piece the eight different images together to create one large one.† This was quite time consuming, because we had to teach ourselves all along how to use the software.† We then used a pencil tool in the program to highlight all of the parts of the rocks in the outcropping that had certain mineral signatures.† These are the areas of interest to the scientists that they want to study with the rover.† This, also, was quite time consuming, and would take up the rest of our working day for today.

We finally went home then we went home at about 7:00 PM.† He said he would use our mosaic for the science assessment meeting the next meeting.† We were then told to get some sleep so we would be ready for the next day!

02/01/04 (notes from Miranda): Well, we made it!!† It was really nice being back at JPL but there is just so much going on right now that it is a bit different than last time we were here (during some rover operational tests). Now there are media tents and trailers all over.† The atmosphere now is really high intensity and it?s very different than when we were here in October.

As we were putting our things away in the ASIP cubical, Dr. Steve Squyres came to ask Dr. Farrand if he had seen the new images from Opportunity and he invited all of us into his office to see some really interesting pictures that were taken.† It was really exciting to see because the scientists are not sure exactly what is there yet and I knew that we were some of the first people to see this image. I just can?t wait to get some more information back from the rover!† We could tell that Dr. Squyres just couldn?t wait to get going and take some more pictures and figure out what the images were made of.

After this little ?gathering,? Dr. Farrand explained what he wanted us to do: to take a bunch of images that were downloaded previously and fit them together into a mosaic.† I thought, ?okay, this is going to be easy,? but it was actually a little more difficult than we had expected.† We eventually got all of the images as close as we could so that is looked like one big picture and then what we had to do was circle all of the areas that were a certain kind of composition, but different than all of the other rock compositions.† This is what took us the longest. We finally got the whole image done, and by this time we were exhausted!† We took it and showed it to Dr. Farrand, and he copied it to his computer so that maybe he could show it in the Opportunity science meeting tomorrow morning.† That just made all of the work worthwhile!

02/02/04 (notes from Miranda): After getting about seven hours of sleep last night, I felt well rested and very excited to see and hear about all of the new data that we were going to receive from Opportunity.† We got to JPL this morning at about 4:45 so that we could make it in time for the Science Assessment meeting where they were going to be discussing the data that they got back from Opportunity and what they were going to do next.

After that meeting, we went back to the ASIP cubical and started to get some of those other things done that we needed to do like write in our journals and add terms to the growing list of terms for a Mars geology dictionary. Then we took a break and went to the press conference that went on this morning.† There they talked about the status of the rovers and some of the things that they were planning to have the rovers do next.

We then me up with Dr. David Scott (the brother-in-law of one of our school? s teachers) who works at the microdevices laboratory.† He gave us a tour of the building that he works in, and we got to see some of the machines that he works with.† Then he took us to the In Situ Laboratory (ISIL) where we got to see the engineering models of the rovers and where they are right now because, they mock this up in such a way that they are positioned the very same way, the same angle, similar terrain, the same everything as Spirit and Opportunity on Mars.† Then he took us to the machine shop where they have one of the biggest mills in the world, he told us that if they wanted to, they could make a Volkswagen in there!† Well, in here, one of the guys who works in the machine shop stopped to talk to us, and told us a little about the kinds of things that they machine or fabricate, for what kinds of missions, and that they are sometimes asked to do some of the very fine work for things such as the Mars rovers.† Then he took us to the Spacecraft Assembly building, and we got to see models of Phoenix, Sojourner, the air bags for Spirit and Opportunity, the heat shell, and we also got to see where they test the magnetics and a huge tank where they test particle acceleration.† These were all really cool buildings! It was really just so nice of Dr. Scott to take time out of his day to give us a tour, and he also offered to take us and give us a tour of Edwards Air Force Base on one of our days off, so we are going to be seeing him again!

We then met up with Dr. Farrand again so that he could get some data off of his computer and show us what he wanted to do next.† Well, we got down to the meeting room and Dr. Farrand introduced us to one of his colleagues.† He seemed to have a lot of interesting thoughts about the images that came in from Opportunity on Sunday.† During this conversation, he also taught us a few new geological terms that have to do with little particles or minerals in rocks and with different clays that are formed in the presence of mostly standing water.† It was a very interesting talking to him because we observed the new images pretty closely and he asked us what we thought of the images. Well, I thought that they kind of looked like hail stones?but that was just my impression.

After the meeting ended, Dr. Farrand showed us what he wanted us to do with some of the same images that we had worked with before from Opportunity, but this time he wanted us to do some different types of analyses.† Well, this was about the end of our day, or at least our day at JPL. ;)

02/02/04 (notes from Mark): We all got a bit of sleep last night, then woke up at 3:00 this morning.† We arrived at JPL at 4:45-ish, and found Dr. Farrand in time for the Science Assessment Meeting for Opportunity.† They decided to wait for a while before they started the meeting, so they pushed it back 30 minutes Mars time (which is a little bit longer than 30 minutes on Earth).† We waited there excitedly, hoping they would discuss some of the interesting discoveries made the day before and what else is known about the site.† One thing that I have noticed after going to so many meetings is that after awhile you get used to all of the terms that everyone uses all of the time.† During our first meeting we got headaches trying to figure out what they were talking about.† Now we know exactly what is going on!

Each science ?theme? group (such as geology, mineralogy, soil properties, etc.) told everyone what had been discovered from the data so far, and shared plans of what they would like to have happen next.† Dr. Farrand did do a little bit of presenting on behalf of the mineralogy and geochemistry group.† He showed one of the pictures from the mosaic that Miranda and I made, thanks to his ?free help this week,? as he labeled us.

After that meeting, we went back up to our ASIP cubicle.† We decided we would experience a press conference, so we went to the Von Karman auditorium at 9:00 a.m., where all of the press briefings are.† There were only a few members of the press gathered here today.† There were three people that were up front from the science and engineering teams telling everybody what was happening with the rovers.

Directly after the briefing, we were approached by a reporter for ?Odyssey? magazine.† It is a science magazine for kids.† It was quite interesting, because she is from Boulder, Colorado, quite near to where we live in Lafayette!† After interviewing us about our experiences with ASIP, we went back to our office.

Dr. Farrand told us we should go to the Science Assessment Meeting for the Spirit rover at about 5:00 tonight.† He said he was going home to get some sleep before then.† After working for a bit in the ASIP office, we met with David Scott who works at JPL and is the brother-in-law of a teacher at our high school!† After meeting with him he showed us around the building where he works, the microdevices laboratory.† That was very interesting!† He also showed us the area where they do all of the testing with the rover before they send the real commands to the rovers on Mars. He brought us to the machine shop here at JPL, where they made 40% of what went into the Mars Exploration Rover project.† They also have the largest mill in the world.† After that we visited a few more places, including the spacecraft assembly facility.

We went to work again for a while, then Dr. Farrand came back to meet us before the Science Assessment Meeting for Spirit at about 4:00 Mars time for Spirit (or 5:00 Pacific time for us today).† A very interesting thing about working with the rovers, is Mars time.† Because the martian day is about 24 hours and 40 minutes, every day your work time starts 40 Earth minutes later.

Well, now its time for bed.† We?ve been here for a long time today!

02/02/04 (notes from Dr. Haynes, teacher): Up at 3:00 a.m. PST to be showered and ready for the science assessment meeting for Opportunity.† We are hoping to find out more about the ?balls?, that Steve showed us the first day. We hope to also attend the Press Briefing at 9:00 am PST to find out more?after all, no one has much of an idea how they got to be in the crater at Meridiani.† One definite advantage of working in the very early morning on Mars time ? no freeway traffic!

02/03/04 (notes from Mark): During the next Sol, all that was going to happen was the final reboot and reformatting of the flash software, which will take the entire Sol, but then they will be able to actually do stuff science-wise. Because of that, there wasn?t much else to discuss for the later meetings for this sol, so they all went out to dinner and Dr. Farrand invited us to go with them!

We then had a wonderful discussion with Dr. Nathalie Cabrol, a geologist for the Spirit team. She explained to us a bit of what was going on with Spirit. She is a great person! Soon after, we left to go to the party with the Spirit science team at the El Cholo Mexican restaurant. We were late and added a table to the group, and we thought we were going to be the last ones. However, a few minutes after we arrived, another team of people arrived who worked with the mini-TES (Thermal Emissions Spectrometer) at Arizona State University. They added another table to the long row and sat down next to us. There were lots of chips, food, and talking going around the table. We got to talk with the scientists a lot!

One of the guys on the team, was telling us about some of the other missions that he has worked on like, Mars Polar Lander, Mars Global Surveyor, and now the Mars Exploration Rovers. He and his wife both worked on some of the same missions together, and they were both very happy to share some of the details about the missions. He started talking about some spacecraft he had worked on, but we weren?t too sure what they were because he was referring to them with acronyms. His wife helped us out by telling us what those acronyms meant because she saw the looks on our faces. We mentioned that we had our own list of acronyms and other terms that all of the teams have been adding to if they don?t know the word. Well, it just so happened that they had their own list of acronyms and they offered to print it out for us to add to our list. The mini-TES group was just so nice to talk to--they had a great sense of humor and were willing to share some of their different experiences with us.

02/04/04 (notes from Miranda): Today was another early day! We got to JPL at about 5:45 am, not as early as Monday but it was still dark outside! After we arrived, we found Dr. Farrand at his workstation in the Opportunity meeting room just as the Science Assessment meeting for Opportunity was about to start. At this meeting, everybody reported that everything was okay and functional. At this meeting they also discussed what they were planning to do for the next few days. After the meeting was over, we got help on how to put feature names onto the naming database. It was so confusing that, now that we know how to do it, we decided that we are going to write up instructions for the other ASIP groups who will come here after us. After we finished putting all of the new rock and soil names in the database, we went to the Science Operations Working Group (SOWG) meeting where they had almost finalized plans for what they were going to send to Opportunity.

After the SOWG meeting, we went to the End-of-Sol meeting where people could show some of the data they had analyzed and thought were very interesting. This is when Dr. Farrand showed the mosaic that we had put together of the outcrop. Everybody seemed to think that it was very interesting because of the different color bands that Dr. Farrand had used, and they really seemed to like the work that we had done. After the meeting was over, we were asked if we would like to go help shovel dirt at the In-Situ Instrument Laboratory (ISIL) because they were later going to bring out one of the model rovers to test to see how trenching on an incline would be. Dr. Haynes came with us and when we got there they weren?t quite ready for us so we went in and saw the rovers. After that, I headed back to our cubicle area while Mark and Dr. Haynes helped shovel the soil. When they returned, they had dirt all over them, and they told me that there had been a tractor there to help shovel the dirt but after that was over they got to go in and see the rover in the test bed before they moved it outside!

After they returned from shoveling, Mary Mulvanerton from Cornell introduced us to ZoŽ Learner who is a second-year graduate student of Dr. Squyres?. ZoŽ spent a long time talking with us about what she does and the kinds of things that she has to deal with and what kind of hours she works. It was really cool talking to ZoŽ because she is not that much older than us, and I just seem to relate to people that are closer to my age, probably like many other people. I also think that she is really good at what she does, and I admire her and many of the other scientists because I don?t think that I could put in all those hours like she does!

After talking with ZoŽ, we went back to ISIL where they were going to do the testing and we thought that it would be really cool. When we got there, they weren?t quite ready, but they had the rover outside already so we got some pretty cool, close up pictures! While we were waiting, we saw Dr. Ray Arvidson who is the Deputy Principal Investigator of the mission. We had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Arvidson and this was also a very interesting conversation! He told us about some of the many things that he does. He was there at the test bed to oversee the test, and report to the team how it went to help them decide if they were going to send similar plans to Opportunity. We asked him about how many tests like this he had seen and he told us that he has been doing this every since Viking in 1976! He told us a rather interesting story about how he got involved in this mission. He and two other people had actually written three different proposals for this mission, but none of them had been accepted. The two other people were Dr. Larry Soderblom and Dr. Steve Squyres! After their rejections, they decided to join together with each of their teams and write another proposal, which was accepted. I thought that his story was very interesting because you usually never hear about how the teams come together except that they had to write a proposal. And you never hear the part that they were rejected or they were once separate. It just amazes me the things that people do to get these mission together, but really it is all worth it in the end!

After talking to him for a while, the rover was finally ready to perform. First the rover did some turns and went forward and did another turn, then they did the trenching sequence to see how it was going to work and it was amazing what the rover could do! Who would have thought that the rover could make a trench without a shovel or another tool? It did the trenching with one of the wheels! What it did was rotated its left front wheel, moved back a little, rotated it again, moved back a little more, and rotated it some more and then it went the other way doing the same thing. It must have gone back and forth about 10 times!

After we got back from the test bed, it was about time to go to the Science Context Meeting for Spirit. At this meeting, they talked a mostly about what they were planning to do with Adirondack (the rock) and then what they were going to do after they are done with it. It seems like they are going to have a lot of good data coming in within the next few days!

02/05/04 (notes from Miranda): Today we didn?t have to be at JPL till about 12:30 p.m. so we decided to take a trip up to Mount Wilson. We thought that it would be nice to get out for a while before we had to be back. It was so nice today, which made it a really great drive, but when we got there we found out that the observatory is closed in the winter so we didn?t get to see the domes. As we were leaving, we did see the domes--from a distance.

When we got back to JPL we went to show Dr. Farrand our mosaic that he had work on. We had a little trouble placing one of the images but I think that it was just because of the difference in the colors. After we fixed that, it was time to go to the Science Context Meeting for Spirit. At this meeting, they were discussing what they were going to do on Sol 34, and the major thing was the RATing (using the Rock Abrasion Tool, or RAT). They had already brushed Adirondack and now it was time for the RAT to do its thing. They were also planning on taking images after the RAT had finished its work and planned to get a mosaic put together so that they could prepare for the drive.

Later we went to the Downlink Assessment Meeting for Spirit and every group basically put out on the table what they wanted to do for the next sol. They also spent some time looking at the image that was sent back of the brushing on Adirondack. Steve Gorevan, from Honeybee Robotics, which made the RAT, talked about the brushed image and said ?as Mohammed Ali put it, it is the greatest interplanetary brushing of all time!? Everybody started clapping, and there seemed to be a weight lifted off of everybody?s shoulders!

After the meeting, we saw Dr. Ben Clark and had a chance to catch up with him. We met him last year when he gave us a great tour of Lockheed Martin. We asked him about how the Phoenix mission was coming along and he said that it was coming along great! Everything seems to be going great now with this mission. It is really cool to see that we are getting to do some real science. I know that I am really excited, and I can only imagine how much more excited all of these other people must be who have worked so hard!
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