"BOUNCING TO MARS" IS MADE POSSIBLE, IN PART, BY NSF, THE NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION, AMERICA'S INVESTMENT IN THE FUTURE...
New Maas animation:
IN JANUARY 2004, IF ALL GOES WELL, TWO IDENTICAL AMERICAN SPACECRAFT WILL APPROACH MARS AT 12,000 MILES PER HOUR... DEPLOY PARACHUTES... FIRE ROCKETS... AND BOUNCE DOWN ON THE RUST-RED SURFACE.
Rovers stretch, roll off, RAT detail, Microscopic imager...
TWIN ROBOTIC GEOLOGISTS WILL EMERGE, AND ROVE AROUND MARS FOR 90 DAYS, USING SOPHISTICATED INSTRUMENTS TO LOOK FOR EVIDENCE OF WATER...
...AND PLACES THAT MAY HAVE ONCE BEEN HOME TO LIFE.
"Hero" pullback seeing Sun:
LANDING SAFELY ON MARS, AND DOING BREAKTHROUGH SCIENCE, WOULD MAKE THIS MISSION A SUCCESS.
Timelapse and best shots:
BUT JUST GETTING TO THE PAD IN THE 33 MONTHS FROM PROJECT APPROVAL... TO LAUNCH DAY... WAS AN ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE CHALLENGE.
People shots not duplicating ROLLBACK
THIS IS THE "INSIDE STORY" OF THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO BROUGHT THE ROVERS TO LIFE, AND THEIR BATTLE AGAINST TIME... AS WELL AS SPACE.
rolling P2K logo:
"PASSPORT TO KNOWLEDGE" PRESENTS...
BOUNCING TO MARS
fade black, and up on chapterhead: ROLLBACK
06:00, JUNE 8th , 2003.
PAD 17A, CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION.
THE "MARS EXPLORATION ROVER" TEAM-"M.E.R."-GATHERS TO SAY "FAREWELL" TO THEIR SPACECRAFT.
IF THE SKIES STAY CLEAR, THEY'LL LAUNCH TODAY.
The weather down here is so fickle it's hard to say what's going to happen today. I think we're going to go today, though.
We're good right now. We'll see. I'm hopeful. We'll get out of here one way or another.
Oh, I'm thrilled. I mean, just to see it getting off the ground and on its way to Mars is a huge step for us, but we're really not gonna' be popping champagne till we see that first image from the surface of Mars.
Ten years, you know, waiting for this. I mean, we first put this payload together ten years ago, first decided to put it on a rover seven years ago, and here we are. So it's been a long time.
Nat sound, KSC voices on loudspeaker:
WORKERS BEGIN TO ROLL BACK THE SERVICE GANTRY.
SOME OF THE M.E.R. TEAM THINK BACK ON THE BUMPY ROAD THAT BROUGHT THEM TO THIS POINT.
I mean, it's a huge accomplishment, just to get it up on the pad where it is today. A lot of folks didn't think we could get that far, so there's cause to celebrate just getting it this far, I think.
We forget about all the long hours, all the hard, you know, days and nights. It's just like labor. When you have a baby, you forget about it. You have another one.
So I think it is moving. So if you think about it, that's like the first steps it's taking... It starts its journey off at, like, inches per second...
IN SOME WAYS, THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ROVERS-FROM CONCEPT TO CAPE CANAVERAL-IS LIKE EVERY SPACE MISSION.
BUT THIS ONE PLAYED "FAST FORWARD" EVERY DAY.
IN 2003, MARS IS CLOSER TO EARTH THAN AT ANY TIME IN 50,000 YEARS.
THIS WOULD BE THE BEST OPPORTUNITY TO LAND A LARGE ROVER ON THE SURFACE FOR DECADES.
FOR M.E.R., IT WAS NOW, OR NEVER.
THE PROJECT IS A COMPLEX MIX OF HARDWARE... SOFTWARE... AND HUMAN BEINGS.
IT'S SEAMSTRESSES... AND SCIENTISTS...
MACHINISTS... AND MANAGERS.
Honeybee RAT shots:
IT'S A ROBOTIC WORKSHOP IN DOWNTOWN NEW YORK...
A SOFT GOODS FACTORY IN DELAWARE...
HARD HATS IN OHIO...
JPL test tape:
...HELICOPTER DROP TESTS IN IDAHO.
AND THE PEOPLE OF M.E.R. ARE AS DIVERSE AS THE PLACES WHERE THEY WORK.
THEY'VE FOUGHT HARD... AND PLAYED HARD.
BUT ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, THE CLOCK'S BEEN TICKING.
Pete Theisinger driving:
It's time, time, time.
ALL TOLD, THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE AT CALTECH'S JET PROPULSION LAB, "JPL,"
...AND 5 OTHER NASA CENTERS...
...20 UNIVERSITIES... AND THIRTY OR MORE PRIVATE COMPANIES WERE INVOLVED.
AND MILLIONS ACROSS THE NATION AND AROUND THE WORLD ARE EXPECTED TO FOLLOW THE ROVERS ONCE THEY LAND.
TOTAL PROJECT COST-ROVERS, ROCKETS, AND PEOPLE-IS 800 MILLION DOLLARS... BUT MORE THAN MONEY IS AT STAKE.
DURING M.E.R'S 33 MONTH DEVELOPMENT, THE WORLD CHANGED.
Rover equipment with flags, saying "America" along with NASA: save CU RAT on rock for later.
WITH THE ROVER MISSION, NASA'S REPUTATION IS ON THE LINE
Bouncing down on Mars shot:
AND LANDING ON MARS IS ESPECIALLY RISKY.
Is the machine perfect? Can we show beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's going to work? Of course, we can't. There's no way. Even if the machine were flawless, even if it were perfect, there could be a fatal flaw waiting for us on Mars... One sharp, pointy rock in the wrong place.
TO MANAGE THE RISKS, THE PROJECT HAD 3 BIG CHALLENGES:
FIGURING OUT HOW TO LAND SAFELY...
DECIDING WHERE TO LAND...
AND ORGANIZING THEIR LIMITED TIME, BUDGET AND HUMAN RESOURCES SO THEY COULD ADEQUATELY TEST THE SPACECRAFT.
You know, it is a dangerous thing that we're doing. It's dangerous when we launch it...
...it's going to be dangerous the day when it lands...
...and it was dangerous the day we proposed it to NASA. "Welcome to the Mars business."
2. "GOOD DAMAGE"
Nat sound: "...disconnect enable on." "Thirty-five." "Hydraulics go."
THE INTERPLANETARY JOURNEY THAT BEGINS AT CAPE CANAVERAL IS ONE CHALLENGE AFTER ANOTHER...
SPACECRAFT AND INSTRUMENTS MUST WITHSTAND VIOLENT VIBRATION...
THEY HAVE TO BREAK FREE OF EARTH'S GRAVITY.
BUT GETTING TO MARS SEEMS ESPECIALLY HARD.
TWO THIRDS OF ALL RUSSIAN AND AMERICAN MISSIONS HAVE FAILED.
IN 1999, NASA'S MARS CLIMATE ORBITER WAS LOST THROUGH A NAVIGATION ERROR.
MARS POLAR LANDER CRASHED, EXACT CAUSE UNKNOWN.
NASA HAS MADE IT SAFELY TO THE SURFACE 3 TIMES:
TWICE WITH RETRO-ROCKETS TO SLOW THEIR DESCENT, IN THE FOUR POINT FIVE BILLION DOLLAR VIKING MISSIONS OF 1976...
AND THEN, IN 1997, WITH PATHFINDER, WHICH COST JUST $265 MILLION.
FOR THE FIRST TIME ON AN AMERICAN MISSION, PATHFINDER USED AIRBAGS, MADE OF A FABRIC LIKE THAT USED IN BULLET-PROOF VESTS, TO BOUNCE DOWN ON MARS, CUSHIONING THE FINAL IMPACT.
IT CARRIED A SMALL ROVER, SOJOURNER, WEIGHING JUST 10.6 KILOGRAMS.
M.E.R. INHERITED PATHFINDER'S BASIC ENTRY, DESCENT AND LANDING SYSTEM, WITH A PARACHUTE... ROCKETS... AND AIRBAGS.
IT'S WITH THE AIRBAGS THAT "THE MISSION" HITS "THE PLANET."
(make it sound like "rubber hits the road")
Project Manager, MER
As you know, landing on Mars is a difficult thing. The thing I refer to as the "last one meter problem" or the "last ten meter problem." It's the fact that when you hit the ground the environment that you're hitting is not under your control. And so we have to accommodate a set of rock sizes, and a set of rock distributions, and some slopes, and a variety of parameters in the landing environment that we've got to be able to accommodate. And we're going through an airbag test program....
September 27, 2001
EDL Chief Engineer, MER
The first drop test in this next series will be on October 2nd, and so far, right now, you know, Lab. management has been, maybe I'll use the word 'worried.' I'm sure the lab management would not want me to say that, but they've been "concerned" at our reviews, saying, 'Hey, here we are going forth, committing to a landed mass of 550 kg, and the airbags haven't been proved out at that mass in the requisite impact velocity.
NASA'S PLUM BROOK STATION, SANDUSKY, OHIO.
IT'S THE WORLD'S LARGEST VACUUM CHAMBER.
INSIDE... AN ELABORATE SET-UP, DESIGNED TO SIMULATE LANDING CONDITIONS ON MARS.
EDL Test Engineer
What we have here is our lander and airbags. The airbags aren't inflated right now; they're hanging from the top of the facility. And they're going to be accelerated down to hit the ramp, to mimic our impact speeds that we might see on Mars, about 24 meters per second.
There's a hoist up at the top. I think we're about 140 feet right now. It's a 130 feet to the top of the chamber. Well, I think it's about 135.
Space Power Facility Manager
Plum Brook Station, NASA Glenn Research Center
We designed this mounting, or this landing, platform to be variable, to change the impact angle of the lander.
This ramp is slanted at 60 degrees. That's important because we want to mimic landing on Mars on an impact, so 30 degrees with respect to the local vertical.
The lander will be pulled at a velocity of about 60 miles an hour to the impact platform, where it'll impact on the rocks. There's rocks that are simulating the surface of Mars.
The rocks we have there are a variation in sizes. The largest ones look like half-meter rocks, which is our requirement, to be able to stand a drop on a half-meter rock. And they're all chalked different colors so that after the test we can figure out which rock hit which spot on the bag, and if there's damage to that spot then we can say, okay, that was the yellow rock or that was the pink rock or whatever.
WE KNOW SURFACE CONDITIONS IN DETAIL AT JUST 3 PLACES ON MARS: THE LANDING SITES FOR THE VIKINGS... AND PATHFINDER.
"BIG JOE," A BOULDER 2 METERS ACROSS, WOULD HAVE WRECKED VIKING ONE, IF IT LANDED JUST 8 METERS TO THE SIDE.
M.E.R. WAS BEING DESIGNED TO WITHSTAND IMPACTS WITH 1/2 METER ROCKS, AT 24 METERS PER SECOND.
[Plumbrook test noises]
OCTOBER 2001 WOULD BE THE FIRST TEST OF THE AIRBAGS CARRYING A WEIGHT SIMILAR TO THE M.E.R. SPACECRAFT.
And, of course, that's very important because we have a much larger rover, more science instruments, and so the success of this test is pretty important in terms of making sure the Project can proceed, unhindered, without having to go back to the drawing board.
IT'S HARD TO SIMULATE MARS ON EARTH.
MARS, THE 4TH PLANET FROM THE SUN, IS ABOUT HALF EARTH'S DIAMETER.
BUT SOME OF ITS FEATURES ARE HUGE.
"OLYMPUS MONS" IS THE LARGEST VOLCANO IN THE SOLAR SYSTEM, 3 TIMES HIGHER THAN EVEREST.
"VALLIS MARINERIS" IS A SERIES OF DEEP CANYONS, SO LONG THEY WOULD STRETCH CLEAR ACROSS NORTH AMERICA. (pron: VAL-ISS MARIN-EIRESS)
BUT BECAUSE MARS IS A SMALLER PLANET, ITS GRAVITY IS LESS, ABOUT 38% OF EARTH'S.
AT THE SURFACE, THE ATMOSPHERIC PRESSURE IS LESS THAN 1% THAT OF EARTH.
THAT MEANS AIRBAGS AND OTHER SYSTEMS BEHAVE VERY DIFFERENTLY.
TO SIMULATE MARS YOU NEED TO CREATE AN ALMOST PERFECT VACUUM, AND THAT'S WHY M.E.R'S AT PLUMBROOK.
[loud industrial noise]
IT TAKES NEARLY THREE HOURS JUST TO CLOSE THE INNER AND OUTER DOORS.
(The) ...aluminum door weighs 90,000 pounds, and it's a very complicated mechanism just shutting the door. The concrete doors, which are the outer doors for the outer chamber, weigh 5 millions pounds.
NASA Plum Brook Station, GRC
The general consideration is... the safety for our people comes first. And so when you're playing with facilities like this that have so much potential danger you want to make sure that you don't lose any people.
[doors clang & echo]
Roger north and south, go for latch.
[Plum brook pump noise]
IT TAKES ANOTHER THREE HOURS OF GIANT PUMPS, WORKING AT EAR-SPLITTING POWER, TO MAKE THE VACUUM CHAMBER SUFFICIENTLY MARS-LIKE FOR THE AIRBAG TESTS TO BEGIN.
THIS COUNTDOWN IS LIKE CAPE CANAVERAL IN REVERSE.
INSTEAD OF LAUNCHING, THEY'LL BE LANDING.
THEY NEED TO BE SURE OF EVERY DETAIL.
CAMERAS RECORD EXACT POSITIONS.
COMPUTERS MONITOR THE VACUUM IN THE CHAMBER, AND THE PRESSURE INSIDE THE BAGS.
Skip Wilson's voice over PA system:
Okay, why don't we go ahead and start all the data, the data recorders.
A SQUAD OF DATA ANALYSTS STAND BY.
OK, you can hit...
THEN TEST CONDUCTOR, SKIP WILSON, GIVES THE WORD...
Five, four, three, two, one, release...
[Airbags fall on ramp]
AT FIRST, THE TEST SEEMED TO GO WELL...
That, right there. The next frame. There you go. You see the big hole?
SOON IT'S CLEAR THERE WERE SOME... "ANOMALIES."
That's not a rip...
Oh, there it is.
The rip is a lot lower down.
There it is, right there. That's-whoa.
BUT IT'S TOO LATE TO RE-PRESSURIZE THE CHAMBER, AND RETRIEVE THE BAGS.
NEXT DAY, WORK BEGINS AT 06:30.
THE PLUM BROOK CREW MOVES THE BAGS FROM THE CHAMBER.
IT'S AN AUTOPSY FOR AIRBAGS, LOOKING FOR CLUES.
John Carson (inspecting the bags):
3, 4... and ripped right through, that's not good.
SOME OF THE "ENTRY, DESCENT AND LANDING" TEAM FROM JPL HAD MISSED THE DROP.
NOW THEY CONFRONTED THE RESULTS...
Wayne Lee (inspecting the bags):
Adam, look at this.
Wayne Lee to camera:
Four layers of two hundred denier fabric, and as you could see here a half-meter size rock has punched right through all four layers, and the bladder, which holds the air on the inside.
THE ILC CREW BEGINS TO GET READY FOR THE NEXT PLANNED TEST.
AMERICA'S LATEST MISSION TO MARS IS REPAIRED WITH ANTIQUE SEWING MACHINES.
THE JPL TEAM STARTS ANALYZING THE TAPES, AS IF THEY HAD SURVEILLANCE FOOTAGE FROM THE SCENE OF A CRIME.
The question is, are we fooling ourselves? Are we fooling ourselves into thinking that we're better off than we are?
You could be fooling yourselves, if this went through...
Soft good materials like this, you know, they can move and change shape on you, so it's a little bit more challenging to try to "play Sherlock Holmes," and backstep your way through. But it's very interesting to, you know, finally figure what caused the problem, then ultimately go ahead and fix it.
THEY'D EXPECTED THE BAGS TO WORK, AND TO BE TESTING A NEW DESIGN THEY THOUGHT WOULD BE EVEN STRONGER THAN PATHFINDER'S.
THE WHOLE POINT OF THE MULTIPLE LAYERS IS TO HAVE THE OUTER ONES "ABRADE," OR WEAR AWAY, AND LEAVE THE INNER ONES-AND THE BALLOON-LIKE BLADDER-INTACT
Rob Kitz (ILC):
Some of the damage sites over here perform exactly as we anticipated. Although this looks pretty bad because the chalk is red and kind of gives a gory look to it, in fact this is really "good damage." It only went through the first of the abrasion layers, and then into the second abrasion layer. And then on the third abrasion layer... there's virtually no damage at all.
BUT THERE WAS ALSO LOTS OF "BAD DAMAGE" TO ANALYZE.
IF OCTOBER 2001 AT PLUM BROOK HAPPENED ON MARS IN JANUARY 2004, THEY'D PROBABLY LOSE THE MISSION...
[airbag design team meeting]
Adam Steltzner (in meeting):
You know, we've been debating whether the failure of the seam on the 5 x 100 (ed: 5 layers of 100 denier frabric) bag... START V.O.??? was induced by a hooking and peeling the seam open, or whether it was a bridging-related, tensile failure...
THEY CALL THIS "FORENSIC ENGINEERING" ...REAL-TIME PROBLEM-SOLVING...
...USING ALL THEIR KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERTISE TO ANALYZE WHAT WENT WRONG ...AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT.
Are you concerned about the pressure pulses?
Well, is it a Band-Aid that would get us past having to deal with sort of pressure?
M.E.R. HAD MUCH MORE SOPHISTICATED TEST EQUIPMENT THAN DID PATHFINDER.
THEY HAD "LOAD SENSORS" INSIDE THE BAGS.
THEY COULD MEASURE THE PULL OF THE TENDONS ON THE FABRIC.
THEY WERE USING GEAR DEVELOPED TO MONITOR "CRASH TEST DUMMIES."
[argumentative: "What you perceive..."]
WHAT THEY DIDN'T HAVE... WAS TIME.
EDL Lead Mechanical Engineer
Adam Steltzner (to camera):
Schedule is a killer, and you can't finesse schedule because there are certain launch opportunities that take us to Mars, and we have to launch on those dates. So we have to get this job done by then.
THEY NEEDED TO LOCK UP THE AIRBAG DESIGN, AND MOVE AHEAD TO BUILD THE ACTUAL FLIGHT EQUIPMENT.
Wayne Lee (in meeting):
If we can't survive a half-meter rock at 24 meters per second, that's just the design, it's just... you work those back in to the probability matrix. And it all points to the same thing: we're not going to meet the 95%.
THE ENGINEERS DIAGRAMED MASS, PRESSURE, VELOCITY... AND ANALYZED THE PHYSICS THAT LED TO THE FAILURES.
BUT THE DAMAGE WAS SO MUCH WORSE THAN THEY'D ANTICIPATED, THEY BEGAN TO WONDER IF THE TEST ITSELF WAS WRONGLY DESIGNED.
Adam Steltzner (in meeting):
So that, actually, Jeff, is one of the reasons that our rock field distribution does not match the aggregate rock field distribution that we have from our Mars data.
HAD THEY MADE THE ROCK FIELD MORE DANGEROUS THAN THE LANDING SITE WOULD BE?
Adam (in meeting):
The apparent damage seems to me to be more than 16%, whatever the hell that means.
So it's the same regime...
THEY RAN THROUGH THEIR OPTIONS, KNOWING THEY'D SOON BE DISCUSSING SCHEDULE WITH PROJECT MANAGERS BACK AT JPL.
SHOULD THEY CONTINUE WITH THE TESTS, OR PAUSE, AND GO BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD THEY HAD HOPED TO AVOID?
Adam (in meeting, speaking fast!):
You perceive that this scatter is such that if you go back to 22 meter per second, you get us out of it. Why the hell do you think that?
Tom Rivellini (responding to Adam: cross-talk & muffled):
I try to live and have nothing else to hope for.
Wayne Lee (to the telecon phone):
Anyway, where... to go with the next drop?
Tom Rivellini (to the telecon phone):
I think this system is right up against the performance limits of kinetic energy. And these are pretty darn serious failures, so I really think this system has seen its limit.
IT WAS AN UNCERTAINTY IN THE VERY AREA IN WHICH THEY'D FELT MOST CONFIDENT: THE AIRBAG DESIGN THEY'D INHERITED FROM PATHFINDER.
Man's voice over phone speaker (in fact, Richard Cook):
...got a bunch of bigger problems that need to be addressed first.
THE ULTIMATE DECISION?
THE OCTOBER FAILURES WERE SERIOUS ENOUGH THAT THEY NEEDED TO POSTPONE THE NEXT TEST, AND CHANGE OUT THE ROCKS.
Well, I think that, um, we were a little bit surprised by what happened at Plum Brook in October. We had... There's always a message here and that is to "keep your optimism under control," and so we came into the October suite (of tests) expecting that we would be able to land a very heavy mass with a very high velocity, really outside the bounds of the design. But we wanted to kind of put a stake way out there. We could say, "Okay, we can do this." It's like kind of a lead-off double. "We got a slam-dunk here." And we ran that test and we failed it. And we said, "Oh, hello."
So when your reach gets to be too long, testing can give you some unpleasant surprises. I think we were just a little optimistic, and we got caught by that in October. But, you know, these things all have benefits. You go back and you dust off your thinking and you look at corrective actions...
WORKING WITH ILC, THEY'D BEEF UP THE BAGS, AND BRAINSTORM NEW DESIGNS TO HANDLE THE WORST THAT MARS MIGHT THROW AT THEM...
BUT JUST HOW DANGEROUS MARS WOULD BE WAS NOT SIMPLY AN ENGINEERING ISSUE.
IT DEPENDED ON WHERE YOU WANTED TO LAND... AND THAT WAS A SCIENTIFIC DECISION, AS MUCH AS A TECHNICAL ONE.
2. FOLLOW THE WATER
MARS HAS AS MUCH SURFACE AREA AS ALL EARTH'S CONTINENTS.
SO HOW TO DECIDE WHERE TO LAND?
THE DESIGN OF THE SPACECRAFT SETS SOME LIMITS.
A SITE HAS TO BE LOW ENOUGH THAT THE PARACHUTE HAS ENOUGH TIME TO SLOW THE LANDER DOWN IN THE THIN MARTIAN ATMOSPHERE.
IT HAS TO HAVE A SURVIVABLE SET OF ROCKS.
IT MUSN'T BE SO DUSTY THAT THE LANDER'S SWALLOWED UP.
IT HAS TO BE RELATIVELY FLAT, SO THAT THE AIRBAGS WON'T KEEP ON ROLLING.
AND SINCE M.E.R. RELIES ON THE SUN FOR ENERGY, A GOOD SITE HAS TO BE CLOSE TO THE EQUATOR, SO THE SOLAR PANELS CAN GET MAXIMUM POWER.
THEN YOU MUST SELECT A PLACE THAT'S GOT THE BEST CHANCE OF DOING GOOD SCIENCE.
THE ROVERS EACH CONTAIN AN IDENTICAL PACKAGE OF SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS, INCLUDING TOOLS TO ANALYZE THE COMPOSITION OF THE ROCKS.
THERE'S A SPECIAL DRILL TO GRIND AWAY THE SURFACE DUST...
AND A "MICROSCOPIC IMAGER" TO PEER INSIDE.
THROUGH THE ROVER'S EYES, THE SCIENTISTS HOPE TO READ THE ROCKS LIKE BOOKS... REVEALING THE HISTORY OF MARS.
Project Scientist, MER
Rocks hold clues to the past environment that's locked in the kinds of minerals that are present. They tell us something about how warm it was, or how cold it was, how wet, how long the water was around.
ATHENA science team leader, MER
(Right now,) Mars is a miserable place. Sixty degrees below zero; you could take all the water in the atmosphere and condense it down on the surface, it would be a layer a hundredth of a millimeter thick. OK. It is cold, it's dry, it's barren, it's desolate, it's nothing like this, okay. But a long time ago it clearly was different. I want to know how different it was, how warm, how wet, how suitable it would have been for life.
A HOTEL MEETING ROOM IN PASADENA, LARGE ENOUGH TO ALLOW FOR A "STANDING ROOM ONLY" CROWD OF SCIENTISTS FROM ACROSS THE NATION, AND AROUND THE WORLD.
JOY CRISP... AND STEVE SQUYRES WERE THERE TO LISTEN TO THEIR COLLEAGUES.
ENGINEER, WAYNE LEE, ATTENDED TO REPORT ON THE LATEST TESTS.
DEPUTY "MISSION MANAGER," MARK ADLER, DESCRIBED THE SPACECRAFT'S DESIGN, AND EXPECTED PERFORMANCE.
Mark Adler (to meeting):
The hardest part is not the fall that gets you, it's the sudden stop at the end.
Deputy Mission Manager, MER
We're trying to figure out where we're going to send these two rovers to two different places on Mars, and so we're trying to understand what the places are like on Mars that we might go to, do they meet all the different things that they have to be in order to be safe to land in, and to have the right kind of science objectives met at those sites... by having the kind of interesting material...
THIS MEETING'S TASK WAS TO COME UP WITH ONE "PRIMARY" AND ONE "BACKUP" SITE FOR EACH ROVER.
ALL SITES HAD TO ADVANCE NASA'S GOAL OF "FOLLOWING THE WATER."
MATT GOLOMBEK HAD BEEN THROUGH SOMETHING LIKE THIS BEFORE, AS THE PATHFINDER PROJECT SCIENTIST.
HE AND HIS COLLEAGUE, JOHN GRANT, KNEW THIS MEETING WOULD HAVE TO FIND A COMPROMISE BETWEEN SAFETY AND SCIENCE.
Site Selection Co-Chair, MER
Matt Golombek (addressing the meeting):
There's no... there's never absolutes. There's never a perfect site and there's "trades" in everything you do in the space business.
Mark Adler (addressing the group):
...but they're just there to keep it from tipping all the way over....
OVER COFFEE, MARK SHOWED SOME OF THE FIRST TESTS OF HOW THE ROVER WOULD DRIVE OFF THE LANDER.
You see, we how our flight qualified cinder blocks....
Character speaking on projected video:
Let's rock and roll...
ON MARS, OF COURSE, THERE'D BE NO HELPERS TO MAKE SURE IT DIDN'T TUMBLE!
IT WAS UP TO THESE MEETINGS TO CHOOSE SITES THAT WOULD INCREASE THE ODDS OF THE ROVER "EGRESSING" SAFELY. (pron EE-GRESSING)
Well, obviously, the scientists are very interested in going to a place where the spacecraft will work. It doesn't do them any good to send the spacecraft somewhere and have them fail and not get any science back. So they are very motivated to work with us on selecting sites that are appropriately safe. And at the same time we're all motivated to try and go to places that will meet our science objectives of understanding the ancient water history of Mars...
HUMANS HAVE BEEN FASCINATED BY MARS FOR CENTURIES.
ANCIENT PEOPLES REACTED TO ITS BLOOD-RED COLOR, AND NAMED IT FOR THEIR GODS OF WAR.
THROUGH TELESCOPES, ASTRONOMERS SAW SHAPES ON ITS SURFACE.
ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO THERE WAS SPECULATION ABOUT CANALS ON MARS, AND THE CREATURES WHO MIGHT HAVE BUILT THEM.
IN THE 1960'S SPACECRAFT BEGAN TO REPLACE SUPERSTITION AND SPECULATION WITH SCIENCE.
(don't sneer at "superstition" and "speculation")
MARS HAD CRATERS, BUT IT WASN'T DEAD LIKE THE MOON.
THERE WERE VOLCANOES, SO IT MUST ONCE HAVE BEEN GEOLOGICALLY ACTIVE.
THE VIKING ORBITERS SAW WHAT LOOKED LIKE RIVER VALLEYS...
AND ISLANDS SHAPED BY GIANT FLOODS.
BUT DOWN ON THE SURFACE, THE VIKING BIOLOGY EXPERIMENTS FOUND NO CLEAR EVIDENCE OF PAST OR PRESENT LIFE.
IN 1997, SOJOURNER SAW ROCKS CONTAINING PEBBLES, ROUNDED-PERHAPS-BY RUNNING WATER.
IN EARLY 2002, MARS ODYSSEY SHOWED ABUNDANT WATER ICE BENEATH THE DUST AND DRY-ICE AT THE POLES. (or FROZEN CARBON DIOXIDE? Too many ICEs?)
GLOBAL SURVEYOR HAS BEEN SENDING BACK IMAGES OF "GULLIES." SOME RESEARCHERS ARGUE THESE MAY BE EVIDENCE OF RECENT LIQUID WATER.
AND IF THERE'S WATER, PAST OR PRESENT, WHAT ABOUT PAST, OR PRESENT, LIFE???
What we know, what we really know, is that everywhere on Earth that you have water and biologically-useful energy and organic molecules, you have life. We know that. We know that those things are all required for life, okay. We don't know that if you have those three things life will somehow come into being. That we don't know. OK. And it's an interesting assumption. Maybe it's correct, maybe it's not. Mars is a good place to test that hypothesis
WITH THEIR SOPHISTICATED INSTRUMENTS, AND THE RIGHT CHOICE OF LANDING SITES, THE ROVERS COULD BRING US GROUND TRUTH
...AND HELP ANSWER ENDURING QUESTIONS ABOUT WATER... AND LIFE... ON MARS.
INITIALLY, THERE WERE HUNDREDS OF POSSIBLE SITES.
BY THE TIME OF THIS SECOND OPEN MEETING, THEY HAD A SHORT LIST.
ADVOCATES FOR EACH SITE NOW PUT ON A SCIENTIFIC "SHOW AND TELL."
PHIL CHRISTENSEN SPOKE UP FOR A RELATIVELY SAFE, FLAT SITE CALLED "HEMATITE" AFTER THE MINERAL WHICH HAD BEEN SPOTTED FROM ORBIT.
THIS HEMATITE VERY LIKELY FORMED, PHIL ARGUED, IN WATER.
Phil Christensen (to meeting):
...in the collapsed and chaotic terrain and outflow channels, this is a good site for arguing that water clearly was here, and we're seeing the mineralogic signature of the effect of that water.
The initial assumption that there was a lot of water here...
TIM PARKER SPOKE UP FOR A MORE EXCITING, BUT RISKY SITE.
"MELAS CHASMA" WAS RIGHT IN THE MARTIAN GRAND CANYON, "VALLIS MARINERIS."
TIM ARGUED THERE'D BEEN LAKES HERE, PERHAPS AS MUCH AS 3 KILOMETERS DEEP. DRYING UP, THEY LEFT BEHIND LAYERED SEDIMENTS.
NATHALIE CABROL ADVOCATED LANDING IN "GUSEV CRATER." (pron: GOO-SEFF)
ORBITAL IMAGES SHOWED WHAT SEEMED TO BE A GIANT CHANNEL FLOWING INTO "GUSEV."
NATHALIE SAID THE BEST EXPLANATION WAS RUNNING WATER, AND THAT THIS CRATER ONCE CONTAINED A LAKE.
Nathalie Cabrol (to meeting):
...I think this is probably a very exciting place to go.
NATHAN BRIDGES ARGUED FOR ANOTHER CRATER, CALLED "GALE."
NEXT DAY, JIM RICE SPOKE UP FOR "ATHABASCA" IN THE ELYSIUM REGION....
It's very young, also. This region is about ten million years old...
HE ARGUED THIS SITE SHOWED EVIDENCE OF VOLCANIC HEATING AND FLOWING WATER, PERHAPS NOT SO LONG AGO.
HE SHOWED SLIDES FROM FIELD RESEARCH ON EARTH TO MAKE HIS CASE.
TO SELL A SITE, A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF STAND-UP COMEDY WAS HELPFUL.
[Laughter and applause.]
...This is some of the "platy flow" (sic) material out here... and this is the unit that's being stripped off, revealing the platy float.
JIM KEPT SHOWING ENTICING IMAGES NOT QUITE IN THE LANDING ELLIPSE!
HIS AUDIENCE ASKED THE SCIENTIFIC EQUIVALENT OF "ARE WE THERE YET?"
Steve Squyres, front of room:
Are we in the ellipse now?
No, this is south of the ellipse...
ALONG WITH PITCHES FOR THE VARIOUS LANDING SITES THE PROJECT HAD ALSO ASKED RESEARCHERS TO ANALYZE THE VERY LATEST DATA FROM THE ORBITERS.
THE NEWS... WASN'T GOOD.
EVERY SITE THEY LOOKED AT, INCLUDING THE ONES WHERE VIKING AND PATHFINDER HAD SUCCESSFULLY LANDED, NOW LOOKED VERY RISKY FOR M.E.R.
Phil Christensen, off camera:
...covered by watermelon size rocks, you know, we need to be smarter than that.
You know, that's the trouble. We have so much more data now than we had when we picked the site for Pathfinder, and unfortunately that means... when you know more about Mars in terms of the rock abundance, the slopes, the terrain, the winds-things that we didn't know before-we're learning that Mars is a difficult place to land.
AT THE END OF THE DAY, DECISION TIME.
Remember, you only have four votes. [Matt laughs]
IT LOOKED LIKE DEMOCRACY IN ACTION.
Matt Golombek (off camera):
If we just take the numbers, there's the top four.
BUT SOME OF THE SCIENTISTS SEEMED TO THINK GOOD SITES WERE GETTING SHORT CHANGED.
Jack Farmer (from back of room):
Assuming that Gale is off the list, and I don't really know what that red 'X' up there means, Matt, you'll have to clarify that. Is Gale on the list, or not?
HYPOTHESES WERE DEBATED.
OPINIONS WERE QUESTIONED.
Farmer (off camera):
I think that may have been oversold before.
Rice (off camera):
Can't believe I'm hearing that. You've been talking about hydrothermal sites for ever!
[Group discussion & laughter]
Instrumentation team, MER
Arizona State University
Jim, when I asked my questions about can you really tell me more about why you think there was extensive hydrothermal activity that would lead to mineralization that you could detect with this mission, I got no answers.
THERE WAS TALK OF "MY" SITE... AND "YOUR" SITE.
What I'm questioning is what is the impact of it?
I don't think... I don't think you can answer that for your site, either.
Let me, wait, let me stop this for a second...
STEVE SQUYRES REMINDED EVERYONE OF THEIR MISSION: "FOLLOW THE WATER."
One of the questions that we will be asked is how does this site address water on Mars. "What specific hypotheses related to water are being tested?" And so I think it's important that when you cast your vote you cast your vote for places where we can make a compelling case that there's a high probability that water was involved there. So "likelihood of water", I think, is an important selection criterion.
Alright, I'm happy. Everyone votes four times. You are required, and you can't vote twice for one site.
EVENTUALLY THE SCIENCE "COMMUNITY" (emphasis) LIVED UP TO ITS NAME, AND REACHED A CONSENSUS.
HEMATITE... GUSEV... MELAS CHASMA... AND ATHABASCA... WOULD BE THE 4 SITES CARRIED FORWARD, ONE FOR EACH ROVER AND TWO BACKUPS, WITH FINAL CHOICES TO BE MADE LATER.
...are immaterial. It's not that way!
TWO DAYS OF LONG, HARD LABOR... "FOLLOWING THE WATER," BUT ALSO LOOKING TO KEEP THE LANDERS SAFE.
Deputy Mission Manager, MER
Given that we're doing all the work we're doing in the design and the testing, what's left is probably the highest level on the reliability of this mission, is picking the right landing sites.
And so that's one area where I want to make sure that we've gotten every bit of information that we can, that we've done the most that we can to select the right site and the best understanding of the sites that we can have.
Chapter head: TESTING TIMES
IN THE MACHINE SHOP AT JPL, THEY'RE WORKING DOUBLE SHIFTS, BUILDING ONE-OF-A-KIND WHEEL STRUTS FOR THE ROVERS.
THE WHEELS THEMSELVES ARE MASTERPIECES OF DESIGN AND FABRICATION...
WITH SPIRALS OF LIGHTWEIGHT METAL, AS BUILT-IN SHOCK ABSORBERS.
EARLY 2002: THE HARDWARE BEGINS TO FLOW IN TO JPL.
FEBRUARY 25TH HAD BEEN THE OFFICIAL START OF "ATLO"... "ASSEMBLY, TEST AND LAUNCH OPERATIONS."
ATLO manager, MER
Assembly, Test and Launch Operations
Well, ATLO is where it all comes together-all the subsystems deliver their hardware into ATLO so that we can integrate it and test it and get it ready to ship down to the Cape and get it launched. So it's a pretty big deal. We can't really do without ATLO.
BUT ON MARCH 1, THE "HIGH BAY" IN JPL'S "SPACECRAFT ASSEMBLY FACILITY" IS ALMOST EMPTY.
Art talking, and showing the foam-core, rough and ready cabling model:
DURING "ATLO", ART THOMPSON-AND-TEAM TEST HOW HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE WORK TOGETHER.
WAITING FOR THE REAL THING, THEY MADE DO WITH FOAM CORE MOCKUPS OF THE ROVER'S MAIN EQUIPMENT BOX.
M.E.R. IS OVERDUE.
ATLO Systems Lead
Well, so far she's been hesitant to make an appearance. We're hoping that when she gets here she'll be very outgoing, and very easy to get along with. But I'm sure she'll have her stubborn portions that we'll have to work through too.
"ATLO'S" STILL MISSING ELECTRONICS MODULES...
SOFTWARE, "AS ALWAYS", IS BEING WORKED ON...
BUT SOON THE PACE PICKS UP...
OUT IN THE HIGH BAY "DELIVERY ROOM," THE FIRST ROVER IS BEING BORN.
NOW ART AND TEAM CAN BEGIN SOFTWARE SIMULATIONS OF LAUNCH... CRUISE... AND LANDING.
FOR HUMAN TODDLERS, "FIRST STEPS" ARE A MAJOR MILESTONE.
FOR THE ROVERS, IT'S THE FIRST SELF-PROPELLED WHEEL ROTATIONS.
ON MARS THE ROVERS CAN COVER HALF A FOOTBALL FIELD A DAY... AT THE SPEED OF A GIANT TORTOISE!
KOBIE BOYKINS IS A MECHANICAL ENGINEER SUPPORTING THE MOBILITY TEST TEAM.
Mechanical Engineer, MER
We have procedures that we run everything to, and I say "run," that we actually do our work to, so we have a list of written instructions that tells us, okay, we want you to torque every other bolt on the rover equipment deck to 60 inch pounds.
And we'll watch as we torque all those bolts, every other one, and we'll watch that happen, and then we sign the paperwork, and then we'll do every other one going the other way, and then we'll sign the paperwork. And then we have another group of people that sort of stand back, at least maybe at arm's length, and they watch as this thing goes and those are called the "Quality Assurance" people. And then they come through and they stamp our procedure saying they've watched it happen. So that way you sort of have two independent checks...
TO HELP EVERYONE APPRECIATE THE ADVANCE WHICH M.E.R. REPRESENTS, THEY ARRANGE A ROVER FAMILY PORTRAIT...
SOJOURNER AND M.E.R, 16 TIMES AS HEAVY, AND TWO AND A HALF TIMES AS LONG.
NOT EVERYTHING HAS BEEN ROLLING AHEAD.
THE MANUFACTURER OF THE SOLAR PANELS HAD GONE OUT OF BUSINESS...
That's one of these "that's not supposed to happen kinds of things." There's a set of expected risks you take, you know, designs are going to take longer, when you get into the test program you're going to find design mistakes, you're going to have to go back, and recycle, and retest and make some changes. That's all kind of expected because that's the way this business works. To have a supplier basically no longer be able to supply the material to you, that's very unusual.
This is the stuff that nobody sees. You know, when the lander lands and the rover drives around and everything's a great success, it all looks like it was perfectly planned and perfectly executed, and the perfection at the end masks all the turmoil that invariably precedes it.
IN LATE TWO THOUSAND AND TWO, THE ROVERS UNDERGO ENVIRONMENTAL TESTING.
THEY'RE EXPOSED TO A VACUUM SIMULATING SPACE...
...BAKED HOT BY A SYNTHETIC SUN...
...DATA TRANSMISSIONS TESTED FOR POWER AND ACCURACY.
The pace at JPL was ...fast and furious. Everything needed to be done boom, boom, boom, boom. And we were trying to get the vehicles put together so we could get in the system test, system thermal test, vibration, whatever the testing that we were going to do and we moved at a very rapid pace.
BUT ASSEMBLING AND TESTING HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE ARE NOT ENOUGH.
AFTER THE LOSS OF THE "1998 MISSIONS", M.E.R. NEEDED TO PROVE TO NASA HEADQUARTERS, AND THE OUTSIDE WORLD, THAT IT'S DOING EVERYTHING IT CAN TO INCREASE THE ODDS OF SUCCESS.
THE PROJECT'S MEN AND WOMEN ARE TESTED, ALONG WITH THEIR EQUIPMENT.
JENNIFER TROSPER IS A VETERAN MARS EXPLORER.
SHE'D BEEN MISSION DIRECTOR FOR PATHFINDER'S FIRST DAY ON THE RED PLANET.
NOW SHE'S RESPONSIBLE FOR MAKING SURE THE HARDWARE AND SOFTWARE "PLAY" TOGETHER... AND THAT THE HUMANS ARE COMMUNICATING TOO.
IN ONE OF A SERIES OF HIGH-LEVEL REVIEWS, SHE'S ON THE SPOT, TO EXPLAIN HOW SURFACE OPERATIONS SHOULD WORK ON MARS.
Project System Engineeer, MER
The project system engineer is kind of making sure it all fits together and that we're not doing something here, that over in the flight system it's not going to work with how we plan to do operations, and that the science actually is going to be able to be accomplished, and we can really drive as far as we said we were going to drive...
And so that's a big challenge, is juggling all the balls and leading the people. I mean, it's a huge group of people and to move any large group of people in any direction takes a lot of work, too.
The biggest challenge on this project, is the parallelism of everything. We are still building hardware, which is something you do very early on...
We're still designing software, you know, software that is going to run this mission, we're still designing it.
And then we're testing stuff in the test bed.
We all love it and we all complain about it, so we're all in the same boat. Like, oh, this is so hard, you know, everything's happening in parallel, and we wouldn't...
I think the thing that we would all like to have a little different is just more time.
MORE REVIEWS AND PRESENTATIONS.
Volleyball action shots:
JENNIFER, AN "ACADEMIC ALL-AMERICAN 'HALL-OF-FAMER' " AT M.I.T., MAKES TIME TO RELAX SOME EVENINGS...
ON AND OFF THE COURT, SHE THINKS DIVERSITY BREEDS STRENGTH.
I think the teamwork is the most important part of it that's similar. I think volleyball especially-I'm a softball player and my Dad taught me to play basketball, but volleyball is one of those sports where you really do specialize in different things. And here when we play coed, I'm not the one, clearly, who goes up and blocks these big hitters
Instead... ball! ...we have the big guys who are good at blocking and jumping and hitting get up and block and jump and hit, and then the girls who hustle around and can get to the balls, set the balls up. And so, everybody's got their own little specialty and it's the same at work, even on a daily basis.
We know who to invite to our different meetings, we know who to have do different things, because everybody's got their different specialties that they're good at.
And, if you can in some way get that all to work together properly you can achieve incredible things.
THEY ARE MAKING PROGRESS.
IN DOVER, DELAWARE, THEY'VE BEEN FABRICATING NEW AIRBAGS.
THEY'VE COME UP WITH FIXES FOR THE EARLIER PROBLEMS...
...AS WELL AS REVOLUTIONARY NEW DESIGNS IN CASE THEY NEED THEM.
THE LATEST TESTS SHOW THEY'RE GETTING MORE ROBUST.
NOW THE HIGH BAY'S FULL OF ACTUAL FLIGHT HARDWARE.
BUT SOME THINGS... DON'T CHANGE.
It's always schedule. It's always been schedule on this project, and it will be that way until the very end.
And so the other thread that we've been on is getting the entry, descent, and landing system, make sure that we have the right design, that whatever issues were exposed that we fixed and we were on track for a safe landing at a safe, scientifically interesting site.
Both of those have gone well. We're not at the finish line, we're six months to go, and we've got, certainly some people say, more than six months of work in some areas. But we're on track for both those major problems, I think.
EARLY 2003... A NEW YEAR... AND A MAJOR MILESTONE IN THE LIFE OF M.E.R.
THE JPL TEAM TURNS OUT LATE AT NIGHT TO SEND OFF ONE OF THE CONVOYS THAT WILL TAKE THE ROVERS FROM PASADENA... TO CAPE CANAVERAL.
[trumpet sounds: "Off to the Races"]
Voice off camera:
Tom Shain, driving, on radio:
Let's start moving them out, guys, OK.
ATLO Logistics Lead, MER
I've always considered the first part of the trip to Mars is the twenty-six hundred road trip from JPL to Kennedy Space Center that we made three of this January, February, and March timeframe.
And these trips are quite interesting, of course. We have the full responsibility of the project to get that hardware here safely, and obviously when I do the trips if I get four or five hours of sleep for the total three days, I'd feel fortunate.
Are we having fun yet?
And the fact that we do have wide loads on these trips that requires wide load escort vehicles, special consideration by the states to allow us to travel around the clock, which I prefer to do because the sooner we get here the better off we are. The more time we're stopped the more problems we can have, or we can encounter. So we like to truck on, "Keep Trucking."
We have instrumentation on board that will alert us if we get into a situation where we see too many "G's" on our flight hardware taking place in our trailers. We'll usually stop, get out and check it, make sure everything's okay and then drive accordingly.
You're continually on the radio...It's definitely not a pleasure trip. When we do these, people say, hey, I'd really like to do that. I said, yeah, it's fun until about the California-Arizona border. I said, from then on, we only talk when we need to, usually, because it's a very hectic trip.
SPACECRAFT ENGINEERS TURN TRUCKERS... AND NOW IT'S TRUCKERS WHO ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SAFETY OF AN 800 MILLION DOLLAR MISSION.
...working with the truck drivers. Normally when we do these convoys I've always specified the particular truck drivers that I would like to haul the flight hardware... and some of these guys I've dealt with on several convoys and we've been fortunate enough to get them back again.
THEY MAKE IT CROSS-COUNTRY IN RECORD TIME.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLORIDA...
M.E.R.'S LAST PORT OF CALL ON EARTH.
THE "PAYLOAD HAZARDOUS SERVICING FACILITY" IS HIGH SECURITY...
...AND SCRUPULOUSLY STERILE TO PROTECT MARS AGAINST BIOLOGICAL CONTAMINANTS FROM EARTH.
John Wirth, to Matt Wallace:
What do you think, Matt? Your baby has made it, one of 'em...
AS THEY RE-ASSEMBLE THE SPACECRAFT, THE ATMOSPHERE AT CAPE CANAVERAL IS VERY DIFFERENT FROM JPL.
...it's not a time crunch any more so you're not feeling that you're pushed to get something out the door. I think the stress becomes, what we would say... I don't know if I can say this, we sorta call it the "pucker factor"-you sort of get nervous, it's this nervous energy that comes about doing it for the last time and making sure that you have... you go to sleep and you have nightmares and you make sure... it almost keeps you up at night going, "I want to make sure that I checked that", and then you go back in and you walk into the high bay here behind me and you go check it again. And if that doesn't look right, you check it again. And then you might get somebody else to go hey do you remember doing this because I remember doing it but I want to make sure you remember doing it so now we can say we both remember doing it...
So it has a different stress to it. It's a more relaxed stress, but it's a stress of hey you know what, the next time this thing moves or the next time this thing does what it's supposed to do it's going to be on the surface of Mars... and that we better be really, really sure that we did it appropriately and we did it right.
So in that terms it's a stress of wow, you sort of clench everything up and go okay, I feel it's right, and everybody else believes in me, so here we go...
OUT ON THE PAD THEY'VE BEGUN TO ASSEMBLE THE ROCKETS...
INSIDE THE HIGH BAY TESTS REVEAL A PROBLEM.
WHEN CABLES CONNECTING THE CRUISE STAGE TO THE LANDER ARE CUT, THERE'S THE CHANCE A SHORT CIRCUIT COULD KILL THE ROVER'S COMPUTER.
GROUND-SENSING RADAR WOULDN'T WORK.
PETE THEISINGER TELLS THE PRESS THIS COULD BE "MISSION CATASTROPHIC."
We try our best to do everything a hundred percent, but sometimes these things slip by ya'.
We have a term for that, I'm sure you're going to beep this out, but they're called "Oh-shits."
At this stage of the game when they discover a potential problem I'm sure everybody feels the same way: is there anything else there, what else is hiding around waiting to bite us in the butt?
LAUNCH IS OFFICIALLY DELAYED FROM MAY 30 TO JUNE 6.
The last three weeks have almost, I would almost say, have been the hardest part of the entire project.
THEY HAVE TO REPLACE THE CIRCUIT BOARDS...
...AWARE THAT EVERY TIME THEY GO BACK INSIDE, THERE'S A CHANCE THEY MIGHT BE INTRODUCING A PROBLEM THAT WASN'T THERE BEFORE.
...it has been incredibly intense. I mean, we didn't get a firm go-ahead to launch until just a few days ago, once we put all these fuse issues to rest. So it's been really rough.
FINALLY, EVERYTHING'S WORKING.
BUT... MORE TESTS, AND MORE REVIEWS, MEAN THE LAUNCH DATE SLIPS TWO MORE DAYS "TO THE RIGHT."
AT 2:17 ON MAY 27, THE FIRST ROVER BEGINS ITS 5 MILES PER HOUR JOURNEY TO THE LAUNCH PAD.
MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE HIGH BAY, THEY'RE STILL HARD AT WORK ON THE SECOND ROVER, DUE TO LAUNCH A FEW WEEKS LATER.
Chapter head: SPIRIT AND OPPORTUNITY
JUNE 6, 2 DAYS BEFORE LAUNCH.
Don Savage (NASA Public Affairs):
Good afternoon, welcome to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. First, we'll hear from Dr. Ed Weiler...
ED WEILER, HEAD OF NASA'S OFFICE OF SPACE SCIENCE, HAD ANNOUNCED THE START OF M.E.R. BACK IN 2000.
Name super: (if not on NASA tape)
Office of Space Science, NASA
This will continue in NASA's long-term goal of following the water on Mars. We now talk about water, lots of water, being on Mars billions of years ago and perhaps even a few days ago.
Getting to Mars and landing on Mars is not exactly easy. It's not a trip to the beach on Sunday afternoon. I can sit here and say, we have done everything humanly possible to eliminate as many of the risks possible in this mission, but Mars is still the "Death Planet." It's a graveyard of many, many spacecraft.
CATHY WEITZ... AND JOY CRISP... EXPLAINED THE LANDING SITES FINALLY SELECTED.
IT WAS "GUSEV" CRATER FOR THE FIRST ROVER...
AND THE "HEMATITE" SITE, NOW CALLED "MERIDIANI PLANUM", FOR THE SECOND. (pron PLAH-NUMM)
BEHIND THE SCENES, MATT WALLACE AND OTHERS PARTICIPATED IN WEBCASTS, ANSWERING QUESTIONS FROM THE PUBLIC.
THE PRESS WANTED TO KNOW WHAT LESSONS THE DEVELOPMENT OF M.E.R. MIGHT HOLD.
This is too short a development for a mission of this complexity. This should not be the norm. We were driven by the fact that the 2003 opportunity was really an excellent lander opportunity to go to Mars, and with three years to get there we thought it was a heavy challenge but one we could meet. And it turns out that both of those things turned out to be correct.
JUNE 8th, 2003. "LAUNCH DAY."
EVERYTHING LOOKED GOOD TO GO.
TILL NOW THE ROVERS HAD BEEN CALLED "MER-A" AND "MER-B", OR "MER 1" AND "2"...
Let me just tell you a little bit about her. She's a third grader....
NASA ADMINISTRATOR SEAN O'KEEFE INTRODUCED 11-YEAR-OLD SOFI COLIS, WHO'D WON A COMPETITION TO NAME THEM.
Thank you for the Spirit and the Opportunity.
IN THE "MISSION SUPPORT OPERATIONS BUILDING," ART THOMPSON AND HIS TEST TEAM HAD ALSO RE-LOCATED TO FLORIDA, TO MONITOR SPACECRAFT SYSTEMS.
OUTSIDE, A DAY THAT DAWNED BRIGHT AND CLEAR WAS CLOUDING UP.
11:15... LUNCH ON THE JOB...
11:25... O'KEEFE AND THE SCIENCE ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT, JOHN MARBURGER, COME VISITING.
BUT ART AND HIS GROUP HAVE NO TIME TO SOCIALIZE.
John Wirth, looking at screen:
Well, we were out there and we looked at, the winds are blowing from the south. So...
RADAR SHOWS SEVERE THUNDERSTORMS APPROACHING.
Art Thompson, on phone:
Right, talk to you later.
THE LAUNCH IS SCRUBBED.
Art Thompson (addressing test team):
It's official. We are scrubbing launch for today, due to weather.
NOW THERE'S A COMPLEX SERIES OF ACTIONS TO "SAFE" THE SPACECRAFT AND ITS ROCKET.
Scrub for today and power off spacecraft...
Pete Theisinger (to camera):
And also they've got a constraint on surface winds, so they just had too many issues to fight, and that line of thunderstorms on the weather radar looked just grim. So, tomorrow! Tomorrow! It was a good call.
AT THE PRECISE MOMENT "SPIRIT" WOULD HAVE LAUNCHED CLOUDS LOOM OVER THE ROCKET.
LANDING ON MARS MIGHT NOT BE "SUNDAY AT THE BEACH"...
BUT NOT LAUNCHING FOR MARS GAVE STEVE SQUYRES AN AFTERNOON TO GO SURFING...
NEXT DAY, THE WEATHER'S EVEN WORSE.
THE AIR FORCE SCRUBS BEFORE THE ROCKET'S EVEN FUELED.
Off camera Launch Officer:
...which unfortunately happens to be our launch window.
ROLLBACK. TUESDAY JUNE 10TH.
George Diller, KSC PAO Launch Control:
This is Delta launch control.
There is no rain on the radar currently and there are no significant cumulus clouds in the area.
Art Thompson (in MOSB):
Okay, well, we're going to get this bird up there and then I'll tell you what, we'll run some SBRs for you.
ONCE AGAIN, THE LAUNCH TEAM RUNS THROUGH THEIR CHECKLIST.
Art Thompson (over headset):
VLS 2 is go... Avionics command... RF systems... Flight software... Go... Thank you, people... We are go for launch at this point.
Launch control (Diller):
This is Delta launch control at T-minus thirty minutes, fifteen seconds, and counting.
Pete Theisinger at MDC Console, interviewed by Diller:
Well, everything is good to go right now. The launch team is going through a countdown procedure. They do final health assessments of the equipment on board the spacecraft. Earlier today... verified flight software parameters. We're going through that procedure to get ready for liftoff later.
KSC launch ops:
"T-minus twenty minutes."
Copy that. Permission to arm spacecraft pyros, per procedure.
KSC launch ops:
Top off second stage helium and nitrogen. System pressure is prior to end of last built-in hold.
Another man's voice:
PEANUTS, REPUTED TO BRING LUCK TO MARS MISSIONS, ARE ON HAND.
AS IS ART THOMPSON'S LUCKY SHEEP!
One minute, permission to arm pyro bus.
KSC launch ops:
NSC, report spacecraft go. Spacecraft is go.
No problem, we're ready.
KSC launch ops:
Q.A.M. (sic) two.
KSC launch ops:
KSC launch ops:
KSC launch ops:
KSC launch ops:
NSE. Request spacecraft configure for launch.
YEARS OF EFFORT... ARE DOWN TO MINUTES AND SECONDS.
KSC launch ops:
T-minus two minutes."
Prop one. Pressurize first-stage LOX tank to (sic) relief.
KSC launch ops:
Hundred ten seconds.
Copy that. Team's ready for launch.
THIS DAY... NO "SCRUBS."
NSC, at this time I'd like to report that the spacecraft is go for launch.
RC is go for launch.
LCDR, this is LBD, you're go for launch.
KSC launch ops:
T-minus sixty seconds on.
Matt Wallace (off camera):
Spacecraft is go for launch.
KSC launch ops:
Report ready to proceed with countdown. FSE.
KSC launch ops:
KSC launch ops:
KSC launch ops:
Diller (off camera):
Sky is go. (sic)
...and hydraulics go.
Ten... nine (to his team) ...GO!
...seven, six, 'green board,' five, four, three, two, one.
Engines start and liftoff of the Delta 2 rocket carrying the "Spirit" from Earth to Planet Mars.
Woman's voice, and others:
There it is! Whooo... Yeah!
Man's voice over radio:
Load relief kick rate is in. Vehicle's responding. Vehicle's recovering very nicely from the liftoff transients.
[Nat sound of launch, some clapping, cheering]
Art Thompson, looking up to sky:
Can you believe that? She's not even a year old and she's gone.
KSC voice over radio:
Ramping up to their peak thrust. Looks like a nice symmetrical burn there on all six ground start motors.
We got her up...
Congratulations, big man!
STEVE SQUYRES AND FAMILY WATCHED FROM JETTY PARK... A MILESTONE AFTER 10 YEARS OF PLANNING...
THE SITE SELECTION SCIENTISTS SAW THEIR ROBOTIC GEOLOGIST TAKE OFF FOR MARS.
THE AIRBAG TEAM WERE THERE. ADAM... WAYNE... AND COLLEAGUES.... CELEBRATING LAUNCH, WONDERING ABOUT THE LANDING 7 MONTHS AHEAD.
THE DEVELOPMENT AND SUCCESSFUL LAUNCH OF "SPIRIT"...
AND THEN, A FEW WEEKS LATER, OF "OPPORTUNITY"...
DIDN'T HAPPEN OUT OF TIME AND HISTORY.
WE'VE ALL SEEN OTHER PLUMES OF SMOKE AGAINST A CLEAR BLUE SKY.
TRAGEDY IN SPACE... TERRORISM AT HOME... A NATION AT WAR.
THE WORKSHOP WHERE THE "ROCK ABRASION TOOL" WAS DESIGNED AND MADE WAS CLOSE TO THE WORLD TRADE CENTER, IN NEW YORK CITY.
JPL STAFF SCATTERED ACROSS THE NATION FOR EARLY TESTS OF AIRBAGS AND PARACHUTES WERE STRANDED FOR DAYS BY "9/11."
We're all human beings here and obviously all my, all the engineers on the project were really distracted. Everybody wanted to watch news, people were concerned about safety. There was a lot of sadness over what happened.
And I remember sitting at the meeting, and, you know, people expressing, like, "Boy, you know, we really want to find a way to do something. We really got to do something here about what was happening out there." And I think all Americans really felt that way. And I just remember telling the team here that, you know, it's not very satisfactory that we can't go put on a uniform, and go help out with the military somehow, or maybe help dig in the rubble, but, you know, I told the team that everything that we do here...
...is very much a source of national pride, and one of the best ways that people on the team could serve their country was to continue to do our job and do it well, because I think on January 4th, 2004, when we have mission success, it's going to be a great tribute to what America can do.
IN THE CONTEXT OF SUCH EVENTS, WHY BOTHER WITH M.E.R? WHY EXPLORE MARS?
Why keep painting paintings? Why compose symphonies? Why continue to do any kind of scientific research? Why keep playing baseball? We keep doing all the things that humans do. Yeah, the world's got its problems right now. But the worst thing that I can imagine doing in the face of the threat of terrorism would be letting it change what we're about as a nation, what we're about as a people. It'd be the worst way to react to this. We keep going.
FOR THE MEN AND WOMEN OF M.E.R. IT HAD BEEN A HEROIC EFFORT JUST TO MAKE IT TO THE PAD, AND LAUNCH SUCCESSFULLY.
Matt Wallace to the Launch team outside MOSB:
Ladies and gentleman, that is a beautiful launch.
THEY'D WON THE OPENING BATTLE...
Art Thompson, hugging Tom Shain:
Outstanding, totally outstanding.
Art Thompson, looking at TV monitors, addressing 'Spirit':
See you in seven months.
....BUT THE HARDEST CHALLENGE WAS STILL AHEAD.
IN THE SIX MINUTES THAT WOULD SLOW THE ROVERS FROM TWELVE THOUSAND MILES PER HOUR AS THEY APPROACH MARS...
...TO A HALT ON THE SURFACE.
WOULD SOMETHING ABOUT THE LANDING SITE, SOME "SHARP, POINTY ROCK", GET THEM?
HAD THE RELENTLESS PRESSURE OF TIME AND SCHEDULE LEFT SOME "FATAL FLAW" IN THE "ENTRY, DESCENT AND LANDING" SYSTEM?
THEY... AND WE... WILL ONLY FIND OUT COME JANUARY 2004.
Bottom third super, chapterhead style:
TO BE CONTINUED...
"BOUNCING TO MARS" IS MADE POSSIBLE, IN PART, BY NSF, THE NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION, AMERICA'S INVESTMENT IN THE FUTURE...