02/09/04 (notes from Shannon and Matt): Again we arrived at JPL at 6:00 a.m. We then went to the Science Context Meeting in the Science Operations Working Groups (SOWG) room. After the meeting we talked to our mentor Dr. Wendy Calvin and she gave us a few activities to do during the day. We were lucky enough that we got to attend a press conference, so we could listen in on what the different scientists had to say about the Mars mission. It was a great learning experience and fun to watch! We then went to the JPL store to get a few things, ate lunch and worked on our projects, and then headed off for another meeting in the SOWG room. A few hours later we went to the End-of-Sol meeting, where the scientists presented on events that happened that sol. We had the chance to go outside with our mentor and take pictures with the model of a Mars Exploration Rover. Then we headed back to our work area to get a better understanding on the projects that are planed for us this week.
02/08/04 (notes from Shannon and Matt): We went to JPL at 6:00 a.m. to get our badges so we could start our first day. We went to the Athena Student Interns Area to get settled before the meetings began. Then we went to find our mentor, Dr. Wendy Calvin. We started off on the computers looking at pictures from the past sols. We were able to see the new microscopic images of the small round rocks, which we found very fascinating. Then we attended the meeting reviewing what was going to happen on sol 16. We had some time to be with Dr. Calvin and see different things around the building. The Science Operations Working Groups (SOWG) meeting was the most interesting. The Science Team came together in a room to discuss the events that were going to happen in the morning, evening, and night - exciting!
02/11/04 (notes from Mr. Berryman-Shafer): We have now discovered that scientists exist on ice cream and coffee. There is ice cream available to the rover staff members and we see more and more of the scientists that seem to be eating ice cream morning, noon, and night (martian time). The ice cream bars are usually followed by more coffee. One of the scientists commented that some days he seems to eat nothing, and other days he might have 5 meals. The interrupted sleep and activity schedules are having an effect on all the people involved - but the enthusiasm and excitement keeps them going! Days off provide time to try to catch up on sleep!
It is interesting to see the meetings; people are involved in all types of other activities, but come to life when there is something being discussed that has a direct bearing on their part of the project. People are working together to get the absolute most out of each and every sol (martian day). Many times a seemingly trivial detail, such as when a picture is taken during the day, becomes a group discussion. Debate about the angles of the sun, direction of the rover, and the size and construction of the photo have a huge impact on the overall outcome for that sol and for planning purposes for future sols.
Our roles are now solidified in supporting the scientists. Matt has looked at thousands of images from Mars, looking for images that he hopes will convey the highlights of both missions. Shannon has become the 'PowerPoint Queen', as she goes through hundreds of web pages looking for a special image and adding a caption that will make these missions more meaningful to both Dr. Wendy Calvin's audiences and the hundreds of school children we talk to.
Just as Shannon went to work with the downlink group yesterday and Matt with Dr. Calvin, they will switch tomorrow. As we see the end of our time at JPL starting to come into sight there is sort of urgency to see and do all that we can in the short time window that we have been provided. We know that we'll be following both rovers with the Internet and the regular news, but we'll miss the discussions that seem to take place everyday at the End-of-Sol Meetings where the day is discussed and there is time to start formulating plans for future sols.
There is some very exciting science that is taking place with some ramifications for possible theories on the formation of Mars. The scientists are being very careful that they are getting all the data necessary to make an informed decision. They are working hard to make sure that they are not missing something important at one location before the rover moves to other locations. Being there for the discussions is like one might have felt if they were around for the meetings of our Founding Fathers or something of that magnitude!
During our time things have been very positive so far. We realize, as the scientists do, just how special this experience has been.
02/13/04 (notes from Matt): Since we have been here at JPL, we have seen many of the computer programs the scientists use to sort data, process information, and analyze images. One of these programs is SAP, the Science Activity Planner. Here we have two monitors for each computer almost everywhere so that Uplink (where the scientists create sequences for the rover) and Downlink (where the images from the rover appear) can appear together without overlapping or hiding the other. If you bring up a sequence on the Uplink side and an image corresponding to the area that the sequence deals with on the Downlink side, then targets that were used for that sequence will appear on the image.
Our mentor, Dr. Wendy Calvin, gave us a few tasks she needed us to get done for her. Mainly she needed a few PowerPoint presentations to be able to explain her ideas to the rest of the science team. Shannon found some images and finished the 15-minute presentation, and Mr. Berryman-Shafer has been using his own computer to keep up with current Athena Student Interns and Mars Exploration Rover information on the Internet, sort through numerous pictures we have taken while here, and type up the journals for our group. I am the only one who has spent a lot of time on SAP and I have grown accustomed to it. I am far inferior in skill to some people here, like our local computer genius, Justin Wicks, but I have become a master at SAP, according to Shannon and Mr. Berryman-Shafer (I think this is because they haven't put in as many hours as I have). I have also come to somewhat understand the many ways to navigate around the Terminal window - another thing used to work with data. It is far more difficult and tedious than SAP, but it can lead you to a lot of other cool image programs.
Soon we will have to go home, and I think I may miss working on the computers here. I really enjoy working with technology and believe I will follow it to the career suited for me.
2/13/04 (notes from Shannon): WOW!!!! As our week continues to wind down we're spending more time thinking about what this all means. First and foremost an experience like this is next to impossible to explain to anyone else. We've experienced excitement, boredom, nervousness, and a tremendous amount of respect for the people who do this day in and day out. We are truly in awe of their enormous ability to stay focused with the many distractions that flow through their world daily. One minute they are discussing the possible origin of a type of rock formation, the next they are figuring out the best camera angle for a picture, and literally seconds later they may be fielding a question from a reporter. All of this is while assembling sequences for the rover to execute on the next sol (martian day).
Science is certainly going on here, but what is 'real science'? We have seen that real science is a lot of work. It is taking tedious measurements and recording the results. It is fighting with new software to make it complete a task that is needed. It is working with software designers to get the software to accomplish even more tasks. Science is staying alert through the myriad of meetings that take place everyday, always interrupting your research. Science is asking questions that may not be answered for years. Science is debating what findings mean with others who may have different ideas. Science is constantly learning new things. Science is disappointment and joy, and science is fun!
The scientists deal with a lot of stress. The rover needs the instructions for the day and it doesn't wait for people on Earth. The rush to finish work is always there. Sometimes it seems that the scientists spend as much time in meetings as they do trying to do research.
The press conference was exciting. It was scary to think of all the people watching. I practiced answering questions I thought would be asked. I was amazed at all the people who told me they had seen me on TV.
Lastly we'd like to say thank you to all of the ASIP staff and the wonderful scientists who made our short stay at JPL so special. We'll soon be returning to the real world, but we'll always keep with us the memories of our time with the MER B - The Opportunity was ours!