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A Few Final Maneuversby Guy Beutelschies
We just finished our final plan for going to Mars, which is a course correction. We've had four of these so far. What we do is, we fire thrusters to change our course just a little to get us perfectly on center to our landing spot. This last one went extremely well; we just finished it this morning. Things are looking pretty good at this point.
We're going to perform one more turn on June 30 so we're in the right orientation to enter the atmosphere of Mars. We'll continue tracking our spacecraft's position and we have plans in place to do a last-minute course correction if it should turn out we're too far off course. But right now everything looks perfect! We'll find out next week if we have to do this last-minute course correction.
I'm pretty busy right now as head of cruise operation. I organize the people to do all the operations that we need to do to get to Mars, which means staffing and deciding who works on what activity. I do a lot of planning and generating commands, testing them and then watching them execute onboard the spacecraft. I also have a role in surface operations. We've been conducting tests using a test spacecraft and we pretend we're on Mars and we run through all the things we're going to do after landing. Anybody who's going to be there during surface operations participates, including the engineers, the scientists and the managers. This way everyone knows what their role's going to be. We've practiced exactly how we're going to plan and execute activities.
We also have our rover team playing along. That turns out to be the one part we needed to exercise the most--the working together between the rover team and our imaging team for the camera on the lander. The lander camera needs to take pictures so that it can find interesting objects for the rover to take a look at!
I've been fortunate with my job on Pathfinder as I think it's pretty unusual in the aerospace industry to start out at the beginning of a project and then go all the way through to the end. But for those of us on Pathfinder, the beauty of the mission is, it's a shorter development time and we have a fairly short mission from launch to when our primary mission is done in less than a year. There are actually quite a few people on the Pathfinder team who've done the exact same thing I have--been on it since the beginning and have followed it through and are going to continue until the end of the mission. I think a lot of this has to do with the nature of having a very small team where you get to play a larger role and you become more useful! You're not just delegated to a very small task and when you're done with the task you can't do anything else. Here we have to have very general kind of skills and so we can transition through the various phases of the project.
This week was mostly involved with finishing up the design of what we needed to do for the maneuver. I spent yesterday testing it in our testbed on our test spacecraft to make sure that everything worked as we planned. We loaded it and executed it today and finished up around 1 p.m. Then we grabbed some lunch and spent a couple of hours this afternoon sitting in a meeting, learning how to deal with the media. They're coming next week so we got some tips on what kinds of questions the media likes to ask and how to give interviews.
I will come to work for a bit this weekend to check on the spacecraft. We're monitoring it 24 hours a day and so we come in and check on it every eight hours if we don't have regularly scheduled plans. Rather than just sit and stare at a screen for 24 hours a day, we peg different people to come in at different times to check in on the spacecraft to make sure everything is still going smoothly. We're also having our project picnic on Sunday, so one last bit of fun before the intense work starts with operations.