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LIVE FROM MARS: BIOGRAPHIES

 

 

R o g e r  G i b b s
Deputy Project Manager, 2001 Mars Odyssey
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA / Caltech

What's the value of the ORTs? (where the mission rehearses simulated problems and scenarios) When you have ORTs is it better for things to go well, or for you to have some problems?
It's a mixed bag. The Operational Readiness Test provides the opportunity for probably four or five major teams located in different parts of the country to walk through and test what they have to do when we're actually flying the spacecraft. If we were doing a lot of continuous, repetitive operations, we wouldn't need ORTs, but we get one chance to do MOI right, and the ORTs are our chance to walk through and practice those things. The mixed bag is, we like to think that we have planned these things well, and so when we run an ORT, we want it to just run like clockwork and prove that everything we did was just right. But when we find a surprise and our eyes tend to open and we go, "Oh, we thought we had done that well and guess what, I expected to call John over there and say here, here's the data, give me a response", and John's not there, and what do we do with our plans? And so it gives us a good feeling when we find maybe some minor things to fix. We have yet to find a major problem, that's good, it fills us with confidence. And so our expectation when we run an ORT is that they are basically going to work well, but we're going to find a few areas where we're a little rough around the edges and we want to make them work better.

What's the personality of the Odyssey spacecraft and team?
As you know, the two previous missions to Mars failed to get there and that brought upon the team a seriousness, a soberness that wasn't there at the same level that it was before. You've had the head of JPL, the head of NASA, the head of Code S at NASA, all basically say the same thing, they say, you've got to get to Mars and you've got to succeed. And so whereas before, we were doing this fun project because we have some scientists that want to find out what's going at Mars, it was exciting and we loved it, we now have the responsibility to get the United States and NASA back on track. And as a result, we've continued to try to have the fun part to the job, but we are working to the best of our ability, and to the best of others' ability.

We've brought in outside experts to review what we're doing and we said, "Are we doing the right things?" and they'll tell us yes or no and we take it all very seriously. As a result, we don't think we have left a single stone unturned, and the level of examination into the design and to how the spacecraft operates, into how the people are working and whether or not we have backups to the backups… we've done quite a bit to make sure this has worked, and that responsibility to get back to Mars safely has had a sobering effect on the team.

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