Because they damn well feel like it, really. Also, because science. Mostly science. Also candy canes. Also science.
Coming off my 4-day slew of shifts, this week I was able to catch my breath. On sol 2702 (Tuesday's planning day), we finished up a long IDD campaign of Tisdale 2 with an final APXS placement. The array of IDD victims gives you the idea that the SOWG was, indeed, trying to "tell the Tisdale tale" (Alliteration! Look at me! I'm an adult!):
The final APXS spot, one of the "Shaw" targets, was a real beauty:
There was some concern over the soil contaminating the APXS measurements, but out APXS PUL assured us: "Don't you worry, we got it."
Flash forward to today's shift in question, sols 2703 to 2705. (Aside: I keep typing "26-"… Every time the sol number rolls over another hundred, my brain refuses to accept such a reality.) Although it was a Wednesday, which even in transitioning from Nominal to Restricted are 2-sol plans at most, we had to pull out a 3-sol plan. The holiday weekend was biting us, essentially nuking any shot at 2 or 3 more Nominal planning days. Boohoo.
But, just as I was relieved to get some MER off-time — you know, "To do real work," as I always say — so was the rest of the team. When you get these three-day weekends at the beginning of a Restricted planning cycle, you have back up a couple of days more than normal and plan 3 sols on two or three subsequent days to "launch" you past the holidays. (I always think of it as a slingshot.) You lunge forward a bit, get through a couple 2-sol days, lean back a bit, get through a couple 3-sol days, rinse and repeat for two or three weeks and it's back to the Nominal grindstone. We'll hit that again in mid-to-late September.
Oppy's flash volume will be thanking us. MI stacks are a huge flash burden, so with a couple weeks of a large Tisdale-2 campaign you can bet the flash available is running low. With three-sol plans, we're restricted to drive or IDD activities on a single sol so we can have ground in the loop before the next movement. Those other two sols are tactically made light on remote sensing observations — your Pancams, your Navcams, your APXS-Argons — so that our downlink relayed through Odyssey is much bigger than the data we're collecting those two sols.
Now, we're back on the road again. Per Scott Maxwell's notes and Twitter feed:
On the road again… goin' places I've never been…
The life I love is doin' science with my friends…
I'm so glad to be on the road again!
Our target is, eventually, the exposed Noachian… stuff… to the northeast of Tisdale-2.
That target is an intermediate (yellow) one before the Noachian, of interest to our geologists. With Oppy's need to drive backward for such a drive goal, we took the long way around. First, back away from Tisdale 2; second, curl around to the East and get us on that Noachian. Per Tim Parker's location map:
There's your candy cane, I guess.
Our navigation imagery didn't take us much further than that ending spot. Using a judicious combination of VisOdom and blind driving, Scott and Ashley got us to that last spot without a sweat. On Sol 2707, they planned a similar-looking drive to head North-Northeast towards the Noachian. We can expect some remote science along the way, and I hear whispers of a RAT grind on the expose outcrop. It'll be mostly precision driving and some strategic MB planning in the background.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on my mood, I'm off from MER until the 16th. In the mean time, I'll be catching up on my other work. As a gift to my readers, this will get us two goodies: first, I'll be able to poke in on the SOWG meetings for those shifts I'm not on and still get a good idea of where we're going (remember: we're driving again!); second, I'll get a chance to do a couple of sidebars for this blog, unrelated to MER.
The first? The Juno Mission! I've got stake in that bad boy and we're going to do some learnin' about it.