View Full Version : MER press conference, 2005 September 1

2005-Aug-26, 03:21 PM
NASA Briefing Will Present News From A Martian Hilltop

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit has reached the summit of Husband Hill, part of the range the rover first observed on the distant horizon from its landing site in January 2004.

A news briefing Thursday, Sept. 1 at NASA Headquarters will reveal what Spirit is seeing as well as the current status and what we have learned from both Spirit and its twin, Opportunity. The briefing will begin at 1 p.m. EDT in the NASA Headquarters auditorium, 300 E St. SW, Washington and will be carried live on NASA Television.

Briefing participants:

* Douglas McCuistion, NASA Mars Exploration Program Director, Science Mission Directorate, Washington

* Dr. Steve Squyres, Principal Investigator for Mars Exploration Rovers science payload, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.

* Chris Leger, Rover Planner, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif.

* Jacob Matijevic, Mars Exploration Rover Engineering Team Chief, JPL

* Ray Arvidson, Deputy Principal Investigator for Mars Exploration Rovers science payload, Washington University, St. Louis, Mo.

NASA TV will provide question-and-answer capability from participating agency centers. Media interested in asking questions via phone during the briefing should call Grace Reardon on 202/358-0884, by noon EDT, Wednesday, Aug. 31, to receive instructions.

NASA TV is available on the Web (see http://www.nasa.gov/ntv) and on an MPEG-2 digital signal accessed via satellite AMC-6, at 72 degrees west longitude, transponder 17C, 4040 MHz, vertical polarization. It's available in Alaska and Hawaii on AMC-7 at 137 degrees west longitude, transponder 18C, at 4060 MHz, horizontal polarization. A Digital Video Broadcast compliant Integrated Receiver Decoder is required for reception.

Been a while since the last one!

2005-Sep-01, 12:15 AM
Just a bump to bring it back to mind.

NASA Briefing Will Present News From A Martian Hilltop

A news briefing Thursday, Sept. 1 at NASA Headquarters


NASA TV, Live Events Schedule (http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/MM_NTV_Breaking.html) (all times Eastern)

September 1, Thursday
1 p.m. - Mars Rover Update - HQ (Interactive News Briefing)
3 - 7 p.m. - Mars Rover Live News Interviews - HQ (One-Way Media Interviews)

2005-Sep-01, 05:04 PM
And so it begins. All the usual suspects (above), seated around a table:


Spirit was first rover to land, Columbia Hills visible 3 km away. Oppy landed in crater, saw rocky ledge. Oppy took look at heat shield, understand capabilities and performance.

Two key elements: criticality of mobility, criticality of lifetime. Spirit could not have reached Hills in planned lifetime, Oppy could not have gotten to outcrop without wheels.

Spirit only able to explore about 1.5 miles of 100-mile-diameter Gusev Crater.

Comparing Pathfinder (toy truck) to Spirit (golf cart). Next step MSL (compact car size).

2005-Sep-01, 05:12 PM

"Press briefing I never thought we'd have." Sol 591. Columbia Hills "impossibly far away." Need to get there, though - plains filled with lava, not very interesting.

Graphic: Husband Hill same height as Statue of Liberty.

(Missed a bunch of stuff due to having to take a phone call.)

Talking about tilting rover toward Sun, going across hill to get most light, tilt one way in spring, another in fall.

While at Larry's Lookout, got hit by gusts of wind that cleaned solar arrays. No longer needed to hurry to other side. Decided to go to summit, get good view of terrain.

Field geologist will typically climb to top of hill, take a good look, then decide what to look at next.

Working on 360-degree panorama, believes will be "one of signature events" of the mission. Showing 240 degrees thereof, whole thing hasn't been downlinked yet.

Some rough stuff in middle distance, team member calling it "geologic promised land." (Beyond home plate.)

(Another phone call - sorry, sick cat.)

2005-Sep-01, 05:15 PM

"Do a lot of climbing on Earth," much the same: planning route, doing navigation.

Big challenge climbing up Husband Hill was finding recognizable rocks or clumps of rocks to use for navigation to keep track of where rover is.

Terrain very inconsistent: some allow easy climb of 20-degree slope, some don't allow at all. Showed animation of final ascent to summit, mix of blind drive and autonomous (last part was autonomous).

2005-Sep-01, 05:20 PM

Lots of discussions with Chris about where science team wants rover to go. "Sorry, it's too rough, we can't get there." Showing Voltaire outcrop. Haussman Rock interesting. (Haussman designed street layout of Paris with boulevards, appropriate to rock with clear striations.) Some rounded pebbles.

Rocks in hills very different from rocks on plains, water involved in formation of just about every one in hills.

Now showing another panorama from summit. Showing Clark Hill and Tennessee Valley. Showing evidence of wind effects.

Dust devil movie: half-a-dozen of them, 100-feet across, moving quickly, winds moving very quickly inside. High velocity compensates for low atmospheric pressures.

Will be at summit for about a month, look at rocks, see how altered they are. "Really exciting!"

2005-Sep-01, 05:24 PM

Two healthy vehicles on Mars, been there for 18 months. Great time for solar-powered vehicles on Mars. Adequate energy to continue operating. "Perfect time and perfect place" to operate vehicles. Continuing down hill, will have south-facing slopes with Sun high in sky.

Oppy gone 3-4 miles now, heading for Erebus and Victoria (slide showing route so far with craters up ahead). Interested in etched terrain. Not sure what it is.

Returned gigabytes of data per vehicle, 60k images per vehicle. Coordinated operations of four resources: rovers, Odyssey (data relay), MGS (scouting, weather monitoring). Feeds back into daily activities. Something we only dreamed of ten years ago.

2005-Sep-01, 05:28 PM
Back to Steve:

Sweet that we're talking about Spirit. Last two times I've been here, it's been Oppy. Spirit is now the glamorous rover.

Oppy struggling across "vast plains of sand." Now have six wheels back on bedrock, good for driving on. Found that rock is frequently crusted over with a darker material, "rind." Always the top layer - never in the middle. Slide showing RAT digging results: Strawberry (pure outcrop), Lemon Rind (rind). Use RAT to clear off, then measure composition.

Rock similar but not same. Sulfates seen. Rind has sodium and chlorine. Are we seeing salt (halite)? Not sure, but looking into it. Some process right at end of rock formation created the rind. Possibilities:

- this is last layer to form, environmental conditions changed
- rind formed later, some water presence came back

He favors latter but nothing concluded, will continue to explore both.

Literally feel "on top of the world" right now.

2005-Sep-01, 05:44 PM

What's interesting to the south of Spirit?

Want to see if rocks tilted to the south, so far are tilted to the north. Will variety increase? Go look at Home Plate: flat, bright perimeter, surrounded by bumpy terrain. Could be layered, which is what we want.

Health of rovers, percent of power, any instrument problems?

Spirit has had several cleaning events - 950 watt-hours yesterday, just 10 watt-hours off peak. "Spirit is basically a new vehicle."

Oppy: 620 versus 820-840 at landing. 15-17% degradation. Seen cleaning events on Oppy, too. "Probably not done yet" with cleaning events.

Instruments: worn teeth down on Spirit's RAT, left with brushing capability. All other instruments fine.

Looking at climate change crossing crest of hills

Steve: Do see significant difference in terrain due to exposure of terrain to wind. (No rain to make climate difference.) Tried climbing west side, lots of loose material in wind shadow, very difficult driving. Much easier now we've gotten close to summit. "Barely even leave tracks", ground is so hard.

Ray: Using mini-TES to measure temperature differences.

What happened with Opportunity's reset? Concern about Oppy getting stuck in upcoming sand dunes?

Jacob: Vehicle can't drive into something it can't drive out of. Took a while, but consequence of our own caution. Since then, instituted "rules of the road" for operating in sandy terrain: don't go past what we can see, apply additional safety cautions, use tracks to see if rover making progress, apply current limits on drive systems, support from science team identifying safe terrain.

Don't know exactly what took place with reset. Slowly "recertifying" vehicle, balance ability to recover with ability to conduct operations. As of yesterday had exercised each of interfaces we were concerned about. Reset more of an annoyance than a risk, would like to know source.

Seen more dust devils recently - why?

Ray: Dust devils caused by hot surfaces, summer right now. Frequency of dust devils up because heating of surface is up.

Learned anything in mountain climbing applied to future rovers?

Not from mountain climbing, but learned lots from operating these rovers. Rovers have spent most of lifetime on slopes, had to learn how to operate. Used visual odometry, compensate for any slip, make sure don't get stuck. Bigger wheels would reduce slipping.

2005-Sep-01, 05:56 PM
More Q&A:

How long would it take you to do Spirit's job? What if you were on Mars operating rover?

Steve: Spirit did a lot of geologizing climbing the hills. "Two or three days of pretty intensive field work."

Human operating robot: Not sure, possibly weeks to a month or so. Hard question to answer due to limited experience.

Took a lot of care in ascending hills. How much care going down, how long on summit?

Steve: Have often set a deadline for moving on, e.g., Oppy leave Eagle by Sol 60. Will select date for leaving summit in next week or so. Still collecting data to make that decision. Not several months, not several days.

Going downhill has potential to go faster, not much experience taking rovers downhill. Will probably depend on how much interesting geology on the way down. "True exploration - don't know, learn as you go."

Relate ground findings to global aspects of Mars, like the north-south dichotomy

Steve: Hard to draw conclusions because it's too localized. Spirit has encountered oldest rocks analyzed on Mars so far. Energetic place: volcanoes erupting, water, etc. Glimpse into ancient past of Mars. Don't know how variable around planet. Mars was dramatically different at times rocks were formed from today.

Were able to put together detailed picture of aqueous history of Meridiani. What's the picture at Gusev?

Ray: Evidence at Eagle Crater pretty obvious, Hills not so clear. (Interrupted by coworker, missed some stuff.) Trying to work through complex set of processes that built crust that was then thrust up, not as easy to work out. Water was involved, extended period of time, set of processes.

How long will NASA pay for rovers?

Doug: Rovers approved to operate through December 2006. Reviewing science in six-month segments. How valuable are rovers versus what else we could do? "We will do what we need to do to keep them running." These resources are invaluable.

End of questions, said they were showing off 360-degree panorama, but it got cut short. EDIT: Nope, got it back. Looks pretty cool but hard to see much detail via RealPlayer.

2005-Sep-01, 06:21 PM
Thanks for the live report. I had to miss the first 10 minutes, but I could get caught up here.

2005-Sep-01, 07:41 PM
Accompanying press release:

Guy Webster (818) 354-6278/5011

Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Dolores Beasley (202) 358-1753

NASA Headquarters, Washington

News Release: 2005-141 September 1, 2005

NASA's Durable Spirit Sends Intriguing New Images From Mars

Working atop a range of Martian hills, NASA's Spirit rover is rewarding researchers with tempting scenes filled with evidence of past planet environments.

"When the images came down and we could see horizon all the way around, that was every bit as exhilarating as getting to the top of any mountain I've climbed on Earth," said Chris Leger, a rover planner at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The summit sits 82 meters (269 feet) above the edge of the surrounding plains. It is 106 meters (348 feet) higher than the site where Spirit landed nearly 20 months ago. Spirit and twin rover, Opportunity, successfully completed their three-month prime missions in April 2004. They have inspected dozens of rocks and soil targets since then, continuing their pursuit of geological evidence about formerly wet conditions on Mars.

"Spirit has climbed to the hilltop and looked over the other side, but NASA did not do this just to say we can do it. The Mars rovers are addressing fundamental questions about Martian history and planetary environments," said NASA's Mars Exploration Program Director Doug McCuistion.

The crest of "Husband Hill" offers Spirit's views of possible routes into a basin to the south with apparently layered outcrops. Shortly after Spirit landed, it observed a cluster of seven hills about 3 kilometers (2 miles) east of its landing site. NASA proposed naming the range "Columbia Hills" in tribute to the last crew of Space Shuttle Columbia. The tallest of the hills commemorates Rick Husband, Columbia's commander.

Volcanic rocks covering the plain Spirit crossed on its way to the hills bore evidence of only slight alteration by water. When Spirit reached the base of the hills five months after landing, it immediately began finding rocks with wetter histories.

"This climb was motivated by science," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. Squyres is principal investigator for the rovers' science instruments. "Every time Spirit has gained altitude, we've found different rock types. Also, we're doing what any field geologist would do in an area like this: climbing to a good vantage point for plotting a route."

Researchers are viewing possible routes south to apparently layered ledges and to a feature dubbed "home plate," which might be a plateau of older rock or a filled-in crater.

The landing site and the Columbia Hills are within Gusev Crater, a bowl about 150 kilometers (95 miles) in diameter. The crater was selected as the landing site for the Spirit rover because the shape of the terrain suggests the crater once held a lake. Volcanic deposits appear to have covered any sign of ancient lakebed geology out on the plain, but scientists say the hills expose older layers that have been lifted and tipped by a meteorite impact or other event.

"We're finding abundant evidence for alteration of rocks in a water environment," said Ray Arvidson of Washington University, St. Louis, Mo. Arvidson is deputy principal investigator for the rovers' science instruments. "What we want to do is figure out which layers were on top of which other layers. To do that it has been helpful to keep climbing for good views of how the layers are tilted to varying degrees. Understanding the sequence of layers is equivalent to having a deep drill core from drilling beneath the plains."

Both Spirit and Opportunity have been extremely successful. Their solar panels are generating plenty of energy thanks to repeated dust-cleaning events. Spirit has driven 4,827 meters (3.00 miles), and Opportunity 5,737 meters (3.56 miles).

JPL manages the Mars Exploration Rover project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. For images and information about the rovers and their discoveries on the Web, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/solarsystem/mer_main.html or http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov .

For information about NASA and agency programs on the Internet, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/home .

2005-Sep-02, 07:17 PM
I think new finds should be named after the folks in Michold STS/ET program who lost their homes.

2005-Sep-02, 07:30 PM
Spirit has had several cleaning events - 950 watt-hours yesterday, just 10 watt-hours off peak. "Spirit is basically a new vehicle."

Oppy: 620 versus 820-840 at landing. 15-17% degradation. Seen cleaning events on Oppy, too. "Probably not done yet" with cleaning events.

Wow. :o

Opportunity had some 650 watt-hours to work with in February 2004. These results continue to amaze me.

2005-Sep-04, 01:12 AM
ToSeek, you will continue to produce these excellent transcripts as a Mod, right? Thanks again.

2005-Sep-04, 07:42 PM
ToSeek, you will continue to produce these excellent transcripts as a Mod, right? Thanks again.

Of course (assuming they have more - they seem to be few and far between these days).