Wednesday, January 11, 2012

100 Sols on Cape York — An Absurdly Brief (Read: Long) Summary (Part 6/8)

Part 6: Drawing Blood — Homestake

2763 to 2772
"tl;dr" Description
We found Martian drywall.
Highlights from Matt's Notebook
Sol 2763:
> We found two veins, one that is easier to reach and one that is harder to reach. The latter is a "richer" target. 
> Science says that these veins could be one of the more important targets at Cape York, if not the mission. 
> I don't get the excitement over the veins. Then again, I'm not a geologist.
Sol 2771:
> Homestake ate our winter haven mapping margin. MSL launch looming. Caffeine supplies dwindling.
Sol 2772:
> These are good times.
Sol 2773:
> The vein is Gypsum. Science is ecstatic. I want to blog about this, but I can't yet. Feels like a secret club.
Sol 2775*:
> Saturday planning! John bought pizza!

Details ("the deets")
When we first stumbled on the vein (which we named Homestake), there was this strange disconnect between the reality that I had been seeing and the reality that the science team was pushing. We had bought all this extra time hauling booty across Cape York's spine in order to go to the northerly slopes — which were now on the order of tens of meters away — to start mapping them with local imagery, and yet at the same time there was this very strong push-back from the science team. There was this vein, you see, but I'm not a geologist and I didn't know what it meant. Even before we knew what it was, the science team had some idea in their collective head what it could be and it would mean — whatever it was.

In all honesty, it was this disconnect from reality that had me asking myself, "Why would we stick around?" I didn't see what they saw.

But, alas — more push from them to stick around. We, the engineers, yielded what amounted to all of our planning margin time to stick around. We needed APXS and MI, more APXS off to the side, some Pancam 13-filter images; we needed everything up our sleeves in a matter of a few days, and we needed to fit it within a strategic plan. (Which, by the way, is hard. Most of our time spent in meetings that we organize to discuss strategic issues are spent trying to figure out what the question is in the first place; the rest is cake after that. You have to wade through the abstract and the absurd and the speculative for a good hour an a half before someone and speaks up and says, "Oh, so the 1-sentence summary is that we want to know… [thing]." And then everyone is on board.)

We let the science team have their fun: We gave them their APXS and their MIs and their Pancams. From this, a fantastic view of the vein:

And they came back with these fantastic results: Gypsum (drywall, sort of). Meant something awesome, apparently. Our media relations guy came into the room — "Scott, don't tweet about this yet; Matt, don't blog about this yet. There'll be a press release, but not for a while." In the end, we could tell ourselves that everything was fine, that the detour was worth it, that the margin was all for worst-case scenarios anyways.

The only reason this works on MER is because of the size of its tactical timeline (days). For landers, orbiters, and everything in between, it's usually only engineering and flight system health and safety that operate on a responsive timeline. Why? Because decisions that must be made today are usually to save the spacecraft from harm, which means that the science payload takes a backseat — even though the flight system was built to fly the payload in the first place. First order of business is having a flight system that can support the payload system. However, with MER, scientific results can be processed very quickly and fed directly into the tactical timeline. We are "closed-loop" for both the flight system and the payload, something that is purely the result of pressing the reset button every day and saying, "Ok, so, now what?"

Which is pretty neat.

Another benefit of this tactical operations concept is that the engineers are directly hooked into the science. We attend their meetings and they attend ours. I don't understand their 7-dimensional plots and their phase diagrams and their crater impact analyses, but I do understand their meta-analyses (like, "This means watery bits were here," or, "This means that this was a really giant rock, like really really really big"). It's cool when someone you've never met dials in to the SOWG meetings in the morning and lays out their 1-paragraph justification for the observation they just requested. They're usually to the point and on the money — with some wiggle room when we translate from "scientist talk" to "engineer talk."

With the western detour to Homestake on the apron of Cape York now done, we could start mapping the purported north-facing sites on the north end of Cape York: our Havens.


*I included a sol outside of the arbitrary timeframe of the Homestake investigation because Homestake caused this one. When we ate our margin away, we instituted a Saturday planning day to make up for a lost sol or two.

1 comment:

Dave said...

Matt - I enjoy your commentary a great deal, and it's very interesting for me to read Scott's daily accounting from 5 years ago alongside your fairly current posts. I hope you keep blogging about your life with Oppy (and George too?).

Plus, anyone who references StrongBad is okay in my book.