Surprise! What are those people doing there?
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Science team members at JPL were surprised to see FIDO field crew
members in one of their rear
Hazcam images, because no humans of
course will appear in the pictures from Mars.
"This image was taken by the rover's hazard avoidance camera
as it completed a commanded drive towards the Kaibab feature. All we
were expecting was the lander and some wheel tracks," said
Scientist Lutz Richter. "We don't think they meant to be in the
camera field of view, but we're pretty sure they were watching to
ensure that the rover was driving properly."
Scientist Lutz Richter
This unexpected peek at the remote crew might make you
wonder "what are they doing out there anyway?"
Science and Engineering crews in the desert are vital to ensuring a
successful test. From acting as the human RAT (Rock Abrasion Tool) to
keeping the rover cool with umbrellas during the summer desert
heat (which isn't necessary in the frigid temperatures of Mars), they
make possible the science investigations that the mission team
wishes to complete.
Unfortunately, when the Mars Exploration Rovers land on Mars,
there will be no field crew to protect and look out for the rovers.
Just the opposite, the rovers will be on their own, contributing to the
four science goals of the Mars program, including preparation for
human exploration. For example, scientists will study rover tracks like
the ones in this image to determine the depth of sinkage of the wheels.
That information will be valuable in part because it would assist in the
design of vehicles that might someday support human weight.
This particular image shows wheel sinkage of about five millimeters
(about two-tenths of an inch). Richter was not surprised by this
depth. "We knew from the visual appearance of the surface
material that it was a rather coarse-grained soil that would exhibit
large strength and therefore a small sinkage. Had this been a finer
soil like beach sand, I would have anticipated sinkage three
Richter and the rest of the science team also study the reflectivity
of the tracks made by the rover. Reflectivity tells us quite a bit about
the processes that formed the soil. "These tracks are not
reflective. If the rover were driving over soil with properties more like
baking flour, the particles would be more packed, and reflect more
light. A less reflective surface like the one here indicates particles that do
not pack down well, or, coarse particles." Coarse particles - like
the ones shown in
yesterday's Microscopic Imager image - are evidence
that the processes that formed the soil were most likely water-based,
and not wind-based.
Images like this one might inspire you to imagine a future picture
returned from Mars in which human astronauts will be working
alongside their rover partners. The humans in that eventual
picture, however, wouldn't be there by accident!