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These journal entries were written by the Wheaton-Warrenville South High School team during their week at JPL.


3/22/04 (notes from Mr. Micheau): On Sunday we found out that we were assigned to work on the Spirit rover with our mentor scientist, Dr. Tom Economou. This meant that we had to work the overnight shift and we reported to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at about 12:00 midnight. My first impression of the various science team meetings was that they were very organized and mannerly. I was very impressed with how respectful and patient everyone was when others were talking. I also felt like I was in a United Nations meeting because I heard so many different accents representing the diversity of the science team. I heard people from China, Germany, France, and of course the United States. The number of meetings in one day also struck me - there are 4 different science meetings in one sol (a Martian day). I can see why there are so many meetings because it is important to keep everyone informed.

I also noticed how important good communication skills are to this type of science activity. There is so much collaboration and so many decisions are dependent on people communicating the proper information that speaking and listening well are very important. The scientists running the meetings have to be very knowledgeable and good-natured because there are so many different viewpoints and perspectives. Overall, my first day impressions were that people are very amiable given that our meetings occur late at night and early in the morning (between 12:00 midnight and 6:00 am)!

3/22/04 (notes from Brianna): Just got back from JPL. I think I've had about two hours of sleep in the last 26 hours! When we got to JPL, we met with our mentor, Dr. Tom Economou, who works with the APXS (Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer). We went to the Science Assessment meeting, where the scientists discussed what they would like the rover to do for the next sol. First we got a full systems report on the rover (everything was nominal), then we went on to what we wanted Spirit to do the next day. Turns out that Spirit will be spending a lot of the next sol analyzing this rock called Mezatzal. Because the rock has a really thick coating of dust, what the scientists want to do is pick several different spots on the rock, use the Rock Abrasion Tool and attached brush to get rid of the dust and corrupted outermost layer to varying degrees, and then take Microscopic Images of the shallower spots and use the full complement of science instruments on the deepest one. There was a lot of discussion about which spots should be uncovered to what degree, because some scientists wanted to look at the white portion of the rock, and some of them wanted to work on more spots than others, and none of them wanted the work to extend into the next sol. Eventually though, most of them agreed to focus on a couple of spots called California and New York, and then whatever else got done, got done. Then we went to the Science Operations Working Group (SOWG) meeting, where everybody decided which observations would have priority and where they would be sequenced in the rover's schedule. Then we finally went to the End-of-Sol meeting, where we went over the merits of getting observations of pure martian dust, which can be found on the dust coating the rocks (in the soil it's all mixed up with the coarser-grained stuff), and making sure we got uncorrupted data from the rocks themselves. Then the meeting broke up and our 'day' was over.

3/23/04 (notes from Mr. Micheau): On our second night we started working on some projects that will help the science team. Fila started working on a summary of the APXS (Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer) activities for the Spirit rover, and Brianna started working on organizing all the pictures we have of the Columbia Hills area, which is a potential future target site of the Spirit rover. We are now starting to FEEL what it is like to work the overnight shift and how hard this is on a person's body. It is challenging to stay sharp mentally at 3:00 am when you are used to sleeping at this time, but it is helpful to have a specific job. We also had the chance to go to the TV studio at JPL to watch the big NASA Headquarters news conference announcing that the Opportunity rover has found evidence of past standing water on the Mars surface, probably in the form of a salty lake or sea.

I was struck by how collaborative the science process is on a space mission of this magnitude. Yes, every scientist has their own specialty and has their own work to do, but everyone must share their knowledge and information on a daily basis for the overall mission to function properly. Even though I sometimes think of scientists as these 'big idea' people, I was reminded how important all the little details are to the success of the mission. Without very meticulous record keeping and sequencing of events, nothing would happen as planned. It is incredible how much information needs to be shared correctly for things to get done!

3/23/04 (notes from Brianna): I can't sleep, so here I am. Last night, we went to JPL a little earlier to catch the first meeting of the sol (martian day). We got to talk with Dr. Ray Arvidson, who is Deputy Principal Investigator for the mission and was acting SOWG (Science Operations Working Group) chairman. He put us to work looking for Pancam and Navcam images of the Columbia Hills.

The first problem I came up against was the fact that the SAP (the Science Activity Planner) has (to put it mildly) quite a few images stored on its database. It contains every image from every camera on both rovers, taken over 130 sols of collective operation (Opportunity's operation time plus Spirit's). It was pretty hard and time-consuming until I realized that the long name of each image included something called site and position numbers. These turned out to relate to something called collection images, which were big mosaics collected of various areas around the landing site, including the Columbia Hills. So all I had to do was find a mosaic image of the Columbia hills and then go through the sol-by-sol image collections looking for corresponding site and position numbers. Since this meant that all I had to do was look at the picture-ID numbers instead of the picture itself, the process suddenly became much faster and easier (even at JPL, data processing can sometimes take quite a long time!). Unfortunately, by the time I realized this, it was time for the next meeting so I had to put off the rest of the work until next sol.

03/24/04 (notes from Filadelfo): So far this has been a very interesting and exiting experience. The fact that we have to follow the scientists' schedule is making me super-tired, because not much sleep is gained--we have the 'graveyard shift'. Over the week we have attended the Spirit meetings and also right now Dr. Tom Economou has me (Fila) working on putting together a summary of the APXS (Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer) data. In this summary I have chart how long the APXS is used for, on what Sol it was used for, on what target it was used, and the command sequence number. He has me doing this both in uplink and downlink. There is a lot to do!

3/25/04 (notes from Mr. Micheau): Today we switched from following the Spirit Rover to the Opportunity Rover. Besides putting us on a daytime schedule versus overnight schedule, there was a different atmosphere during the meetings. People seemed a little more relaxed working this daytime schedule. This change reminded me again of how personal science really is, because PEOPLE are the ones doing it. Sometimes as a teacher and student, we think of science as being very impersonal. From my experience with this mission, I would argue that space science is extremely personal.

As I watched just about every scientist pull out their laptop computers, I wondered what space missions were like before the advent of personal computers. Laptops are everywhere and constantly being used. In watching all the various science theme groups work, especially enjoyed working with the geology theme group. They seem to spend more time (like the long-term planning theme group) discussing where the rovers should go next and why that might be an interesting place. If I had to pick a science theme group to work with, geology would be the one for me.
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