"All in Order to Head to Mars"

Guy Beutelschies - November 4, 1996
Mars Pathfinder Test Director
Currently on assignment at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida

    Week of November 4, 1996

We moved the spacecraft back to the spin table. Now that the cruise stage is mated to the aeroshell, we need to balance it again. The most important reason is that the third stage of the Delta (with us on top of it) spins at 70 rpm when it fires in order to give it stability. If we are not balanced to within very tight tolerances, then the third stage might start to wobble, thus affecting the pointing of the burn. We need that burn to be very precise in order to head to Mars. Another activity we had was a test with the Deep Space Network (DSN). This is the system of ground stations and antennas that is used to communicate with interplanetary spacecraft. There are three stations: one at Goldstone, California, another at Madrid, Spain, and the third at Canberra, Australia. To do this test, the DSN sent us a semitrailer loaded with electronics that simulates one of those ground stations. We hooked up the trailer to our spacecraft and verified that we could send commands and receive telemetry.

Week of November 11

We loaded our final version of flight software. It contains all of the final fixes and changes to perform our mission. Although this is the last version, we do have a laboratory back at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California that contains spares of most of our electronics. We will use this area, called a "testbed," to continue to test the software looking for bugs. If we find a serious enough problem, we have the capability to modify the software during flight.

We also practiced our countdown procedure again. Everything happens very quickly during the countdown so we want a lot of practice so that everything runs smoothly.

A couple of us managed to get in a round of golf in. One nice thing about Florida is that even though it is November, it is still nice and warm. There is a lot of water down here and I managed to lose quite a few balls in all of the water hazards around the course.

Week of November 18

We are heading down the home stretch! The launch vehicle people showed up with the third stage of the Delta. We hooked our spacecraft to a crane and lifted it onto the stage. We then put the whole "stack" into a shipping container and loaded it onto a truck to take it over to the launch pad. We then craned it up the nine story launch tower where it was put on top of the first and second stages.

We then did a test to make sure that the spacecraft was not damaged during the move. We also practiced the countdown again. Everything looked great.

Over the weekend a bunch of got together at a restaurant showing a bunch of football games. Although most of the people there were watching the Bills game, there was one TV in the corner showing my team, the Broncos. They won again and are now 11 and 1 (best record in the NFL)!

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