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Human-Rover Partnership
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The Human-Rover Partnership

Since humans cannot go to Mars yet, the Mars Exploration Rovers will act as robotic scientists. But who are the human scientists calling the shots--both during the field tests and the actual mission? They are members of the mission science team and each one brings his or her particular expertise about Mars. Many members of this team have been training with FIDO since 1999 (the year of the first field tests, held in the Mojave Desert in the western United States).

There are two groups of people necessary for the success of a field test--the team in "mission control" at the Jet Propulsion Lab, and the team out in the field with the rover. In mission control, the scientists scrutinize the images and other data sent back from FIDO and decide what to do next, while out in the field, the engineers make sure all FIDO´s systems are "healthy" and double-check the commands sent from mission control. Both groups are relying on the same and most important team member:  the rover.

Recipe for a Field Test

Although FIDO does have some differences from the Mars Exploration Rovers (it is smaller and its instruments have slightly different specifications), the science and engineering teams strive to make the field tests as much like the real mission as possible. First, "mission control" is set up at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where scientists spend the entire field test doing data analysis and planning the rover´s traverses. Second, the team uses a modified version of the software that will be used for the mission, so they get used to how it works and what it can do. Finally, the field test site is kept top secret from anyone but the engineers actually out there with FIDO. Why? The scientists are a smart group and have a lot of experience as field geologists. If they knew the location of the field site, they could use prior knowledge and experience to figure things out about rock compositions and geologic formations without the important practice of relying on the data sent back by the rover. Remember, these tests are dress rehearsals for the real thing!

Dress Rehearsal 2002

Not everything during the field tests can be the same as the actual mission.

The field tests only last ten days, while the mission will last three months per rover. In order to get as much practice in as possible, therefore, the field tests simulate 2 sols (martian days) per Earth day, as opposed to approximately one sol per day during the mission. Also, the length of time it takes for the rover to send and receive data on Earth as opposed to Mars is pretty significant (basically instant on Earth, but 12-16 minutes when the rover is on Mars). To help the team get used to this delay, the data are only released to the scientists at the same intervals they would be during the mission itself.

The real key to success, however, is that everyone involved has the same goal: to get ready to go to Mars!

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Last Updated: 18 August 2002

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