This blog post was written by: Aileen Yingst, Deputy Principal Investigator for the MAHLI camera
It's one thing to build a camera-to design it-to propose it-to make the best case you can that your concept is the one that should be funded by the American taxpayers. That it's the one that should go to another planet and acquire images of the surface. To be one of the cameras that gathers the data that will be studied by scientists for the next who knows how many centuries.
It's another to wrap it up. Ship it off to the Cape and trust in a group of engineers, most of whom you've never met. To get that camera millions of miles through empty space and to have that camera land safely on the surface of Mars.
That was scary, don't get me wrong. But, I thought the seven minutes of terror was bad...
The MAHLI team has been living the 30 Sols of terror. The sure knowledge that the MAHLI camera, which was facing out towards the landing plume during landing, depends completely for its safety on a thin sapphire window nestled in the dust cover, and the realization that the landing kicked up a lot more dangerous stuff than we thought it might was torture.
We've been living with that knowledge for 30 Martian days, and living with the fear that the dust cover could have been damaged, or may not open, or worse. That would mean the large majority of our mission would essentially be over.
And then we saw the image of the MAHLI, taken by the Mastcam. The dust cover is perfect. The camera is perfect and we're all breathing again.
It's one thing to build a camera-to send it to Mars. It's another to actually see it there, whole, sound, and beautiful. Exactly as you intended, waiting patiently to do the job you designed it for. Almost smiling back at you, with the self assurance of the child who has no idea her parents have been worried about her.
Today, we snapped a picture back of the Mastcam with MAHLI and MAHLI is working beautifully. Tomorrow is the first day of school, and MAHLI is ready.