JPL Rocky 7 Rover Test

From: (sheri klug)
Subject: JPL Rocky 7 Rover Test
Date: Fri, 13 Jun 1997 22:23:48 -0600

Greetings from Idaho!
We had an extraordinary experience on May 30th.  Our small, rural school
district was chosen as one of 6 sites in the world to drive the newest
prototype of planetary rovers being developed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The other five sites were in Georgia, Texas, Los Angeles, Oregon, and
Finland.  Our rover team consisted of 16 students from grades 5 - 11.
Students had to apply to be a participating scientist and give convincing
reasons why they should be chosen, areas of expertise, and agree to the time
committments necessary to learn the WITS (Web Interface for TeleScience)
software.  We have been immersed in Mars education and activities this
entire school year and there was a great interest among students, teachers,
and parents in this project.  We ended up with 10 students on the senior
science team and 6 students on the junior science team.  Both teams were
expected to learn how to move the rover using the software, but the day of
the test, the senior science team took over the actual manipulation and
decision-making of the real rover.  Our school year was over a week before
the test, so we had several days of uninterupted time in which to practice.
Besides learning the software, we practiced interview techniques (we had
done lots of press releases) and arranged our computer lab to be our mission
control room.  One of the main reasons we were chosen was our T-1 Internet
connection.  The hardware capabilities were very important to this linkage
and we had to submit a list of required hardware available in our original

Dr. Paul Backes of JPL assigned the schools to one of two types of missions:
nominal or extended.  The nominal missions were set up to do a particular
set of commands or manipulations with the rover.  Our school and the Dallas
school were chosen for the extended mission.  This mission involved
connecting the two schools and JPL via a teleconference and deciding what to
accomplish with the rover.  In essence, we were "flying by the seat of our
pants" so to speak.  We, as a group, decided what to do next, selected the
waypoints in which to guide the rover, and executed the movements. This part
of the field test was set up to showcase the future operations of planetary
rovers. We were able to manipulate the rover and work as a team, though
geographically far afield.  Future rover missions will allow the science
teams to control the rover and collect data from their home institutions,
rather than having to travel to a single institution.  Data collected and
rover movement will also be visible and accessible from the Internet during
these missions.  What a great treasure for education!

One of the greatest lessons learned by all (teachers, students, press) was
that science rarely goes smoothly.  During the 2 hours we had control, we
had computer glitches, satellite glitches, software failure...all the usual
problems.  The science software we had worked so hard to install the night
before with Dr. Backes at JPL crashed.  Another aspect of this mission was
that the results were not instantaneous.  The students had to wait for the
movements to take place.  The Rocky 7 rover only moves 25 cm at a time
before the camera checks the ground to make the next movement. It does not
laser stripe like the Sojourner does to check obstacles.  It has a stereo
camera which checks the path and "thinks" to decide if it should move in
that direction.  Also, unlike the Sojourner, it is made to travel much
longer distances (tens of kilometers).  The primary mission of the Sojourner
(7 Sols (Days)) will only take it approximately 10 m away from the
Pathfinder lander.  The future Rocky 7's will also be capable of sample
acquisition, rock collection using a robotic arm and science mast for take
images 1.4m above the ground.  During the extended mission phase (should it
still be operational) the Sojourner will possibly be deployed to a further
distance, but always in the view of the IMP camera aboard the Pathfinder
lander.  Not so for the future Rocky 7 rovers.  It will be able to travel
much greater distances using its stereo camera system and autonomous

We had 2 T.V. stations filming for about 2 hours while we ran the tests.
They did some nice news spots on the evening news.  Our local newspaper
reporter spent about 6 hours with us during the week (practices and during
the field test) and wrote 2 full page, feature articles about the event.
Upon reviewing the article before it went to press, the newpaper editor
called the reporter into his office and commented "how cool" this was.
Everyone is interested in space!  Our students acted very professionally and
were quite versed from hard, and serious study about the mission.  They had
built a database about the Rocky 7 and quizzed each other on probable
questions they might be asked.  I feel this event will impact them the rest
of their lives. How can they not get thrilled as Brian Cooper controls the
Sojourner this July on the Red Planet.  They will know some of the effort
and problem solving from first hand experience.  We have had quite a few
comments in our town and surrounding area about the "Future Generation of
NASA". Our many thanks to Dr. Paul Backes and his team who spent the hot day
in the Mojave Desert. What fun!  What great science! And to think of
it...only 10 more years of Mars ahead!

Please check out the web site that describes all aspects of the Rocky 7
rover and the field tests.  You will find it at:

One more commercial...Be sure to check out the "Live from Mars" broadcasts
surrounding the events at Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the landing of the
Mars Pathfinder.  I will be involved in teaching an educator's conference
for JPL at Cal-Tech for the Pathfinder group.  There are still some openings
for teachers to attend.  You can find the application by linking into the
Mars Pathfinder Home Page:
Go to the NASA JPL site; next, click on Education and Outreach; Finally,
click on the press release for the educator's workshop.  The deadline says
June 6, but if you hurry, you can still sign up.  The workshop will be held
on July 3, with a BBQ at Cal-Tech on the evening of July 2.  Planetfest will
be held just down the road at the Pasadena Convention Center.  I just got
the schedule for the events and speakers...WOW!  Eveyone who is someone and
is space related or mission related will be there!  Astronauts, NASA people,
leading will be a MAJOR event.  Planetfest will have a live
feed from JPL with the Pathfinder events unfolding.  A hands-on children's
area full of fun events will also be ongoing with a 40' X 64' Red Rover Mars
base. Planetfest runs from July 4 - 6 and ticket prices are $37.00 (after
June 15) for an adult 3 day pass.  Children are $19.00.  If you attend the
JPL education conference, you will receive a discount on your pass.
Information on this event can be found at: or
call 1-800-WOW-MARS for a recorded message. Plan your vacation now! see you

Sheri Klug
New Plymouth School District