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To MARS with MER - RESEARCH/ers
Flight System Engineer
NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers Project
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
P2K: You talked about managing the human aspects of the team. How unique is the Mars Exploration Rovers mission in terms of the quantities of robotic capabilities and how much of that interested you personally?
Nagin Cox: The Mars Exploration Rovers mission from a robotic perspective is supposed to improve on the Mars Pathfinder mission which had the small Sojourner rover. That's what we try to do in an incremental space program... every step is supposed to build on the other. Sojourner had a limited area that it could move around in and was focused on the basics of learning to drive on Mars; now our job is to try to go further and to let the rover have some more independence. We instruct the rover to please go to that rock over there and let it figure out how to do that. It's a bit like parents giving independence to their kids, you have to learn what you have to do to trust them. You have to have confidence that their decision making ability reflects your own values. And I think that's one of the things that I find the most interesting about the robotics, is it's almost like we're imprinting the rover, trying to teach it our values and how we want it to behave and then trusting that it will go off and do that on Mars by itself.