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Exciting, Exhausting, Frustrating and Fun: Somebody's Got to do it!by Bridget Landry
March 6, 1997
Phew! What a week! We have been so busy we've hardly had time to breathe! Something of a shock, after some weeks of relative "down time." We've been gearing up for an Operational Readiness Test (ORT), which runs today through tomorrow. Think of it as a rehearsal; we have a computer that simulates the spacecraft, as well as a model of the lander and a duplicate rover. We put the last two in our "sandbox" (a room full of sand and rocks that we use to simulate the surface of Mars), then close the curtains so that no one can see in, and a few people go in and rearrange the rocks. Then the operations team has to take pictures with the lander camera, determine where the rocks are, and generally do all the tasks that we'll do the first two sols (Martian days) on Mars. This means that people will be here all through the night, in shifts. As the pictures come in, they will have to decide where to go and what to do, from the options prepared in advance.
Most of my work, however, consisted of preparing imaging sequences to be used during the test. (These are sets of commands to take pictures of specific targets for specific purposes, or large sets of images that can then be put together to show all the area around the lander.) As you can imagine, there are a lot of files to be built, some that we know will be used, some that might be used and some that we hope never have to be used. But they all have to be ready and have to be tested, both to see that they run and to see that they take the images we intended.
Much of the work is very nit-picky; every detail has to be just right. It's been exciting, exhausting, frustrating and fun, all at the same time. Lots of long hours, missed lunches, that sort of thing. (I did manage to get away for a science fiction convention this weekend, though!) But the idea that what we're building and testing right now will be used when we land on Mars in a few months is really exciting. I try to think of that when the fourth revision in the last hour for the same sequence comes in! There are very few jobs that are all glamour and no dirt; the good ones (like mine!) are those where the glamour/excitement/emotional rewards make up for the scut work.