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To MARS with MER - RESEARCH/ers
Jennifer Harris Trosper
Project Systems Engineer
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
P2K: So, the idea was you stick the "Athena" lander inside the Pathfinder shell, and there's no problem because "We've done it before, no problem, tickety boo..." right?
Jennifer Harris Trosper: Yeah, no problems! In fact, it's funny. I remember I wasn't on the Mars Exploration Rovers project right when it was first accepted last summer, at some point. (August 2000.) Last summer, I was getting married, and I was working on Mars Odyssey as the Mission Ops development manager, and I decided to take a month or two off 'cos I was getting married, and moving, and all those things.
And so, at about that time, when I was taking some time off, the Mars Exploration Rovers mission was selected as the mission for '03, and I remember sitting in the cafeteria with people who I had worked Pathfinder with - Glen Reeves, Miguel San Martin, and everybody - after they said "Yeah, we'll just use the Pathfinder software and the Pathfinder design, and being a rover, we'll put it in the Pathfinder shell, and everything will be fine..." These guys are talking about how much vacation they were going to taking over the next couple of years, and how this was, you know, it's a no-brainer, you know, "The software designs, it worked, what do we have to do?" And it's funny, 'cos now it's blinkin' (sic) murder if you say anything like, "Oh, we need to do this one more little thing..." You know, "Oh, we aren't going to have time to even get done what we need to get done." So schedule has become a big issue, mostly because as with any concept (laughs) you know, you don't understand, what the challenges are until you actually try to do it.
About 3 or 4 months later when I came back to the Lab I decided to hop over to the Mars Exploration Rovers mission 'cos I had kind of liked the in situ, the mobile missions, so I hopped over here to work with the rest of these guys, and as time went forward, I mean the first big issue we had is mass. And it's still an issue. But as soon as we got far enough along in the design to realize we had a big schedule issue, that became the big issue, only because mass was still there. As time goes on, every day we come up with just big, huge problems we've gotta solve.
But the nice thing is, I mean, this... There are a few things that are very different between this mission and Pathfinder, one being the number of people. I mean this mission is focused on by the Laboratory and by Headquarters, (and Pathfinder) was not that way. Now we have just a slew of people. I mean this is the big mission at the Lab now, and so... the challenges are different, even to get that big mass of people moving in the right direction, fast enough to get this thing built, I mean we have to get the hardware delivered, and then to figure out how it actually operates, that we can operate on the surface of Mars... It's a huge challenge, and so everyday people are pretty much running from morning through night, solving problems to get to the next problem and challenge, and I think mass, and schedule, we know, in the big picture, are huge challenges, but I think there's also a belief just by the folks that are here, that there's no way we're not going to do this, and we're not going to compromise either, I mean, we want to make sure that these work. We understand the need for the Mars program to have success right now, which puts a lot of pressure on, but also makes it a huge challenge that everybody, I think, feels up to.