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To MARS with MER - RESEARCH/ers

Art Thompson
ATLO Systems Lead
Mars Exploration Rovers mission
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(ATLO: Assembly, Test and Launch Operations.)

On ATLO: Assembly, Test and Launch Operations

We come down and we run tests, and we actually issue the commands to the spacecraft using this equipment. ATLO is the first time we see the subsystems coming together, to see the spacecraft actually be born. We will be testing the lander, the rover, and the cruise stage, so we'll be testing three spacecraft all in this area. And she'll develop a personality in here. We'll learn how to deal with her and eventually we'll take her back to Florida, put her on the rocket and launch her.

In my opinion ATLO is by far the most important part of the development of a mission. Of course, everything leading up to it is important because if you never get to the starting gate you never run the race. But at this point, all of the subsystems have designed their equipment, they've built it in "breadboard" and they've tested it, they've gone through a "flight build" and they've tested that in a standalone, subsystem testing. Then they'll deliver it down here, and it comes down, basically, just like parts of your computer. If you open up your PC you'll see all these little boards. You take all these boards out, each board works standalone but it really doesn't do a whole lot. You bring it down here, and we go through in the High Bay out there, and we actually start putting it together, and that's when you see the computer starting to talk to the radio, and the radio actually being able to talk to the ground, and all of the instruments coming together and talking, and it really becomes a viable entity instead of just basically a single cell amoeba.

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