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NASA Press Conference

Aired January 5, 2004 - 12:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Why don't we listen in to the briefing for just a moment.

MATT WALLACE, MARS MISSION SPECIALIST: Yesterday was our second day or Sol 2 (ph), as we say. The focus of the day was on establishing our direct-to-Earth communications link. We've had a number of successful communication activities about the orbiters where we transmit via UHF up to the orbiter. And then the orbiter relays that back down the Earth.

The second or the primary actually communications path that we use, however, is a direct-to-earth and Earth direct to the Rover X-Man system. And so the focus was on making sure that this link was in good working order. And getting from our Logane (ph) antenna where we have limited data rates from the Rover down to Earth on to our high- gain antenna yesterday. And so that's what we were primarily doing.

In addition to being able to establish the down link, we also demonstrated that we were able to command the Rover. In other words, what we call the uplink. And that all went extremely well. Link margins look very strong. And so that part of the system, the telecommunications system part of the Rover is indeed very, very healthy.

Once we had successfully commanded and gotten telemetry (ph) from the Rover on the low-gain antenna, we transitioned over to the process of attempting to point our high-gain antenna. The high-gain antenna is that circular, lollipop-shaped thing on the top of the deck of the Rover. And to successfully transmit from the Rover to Earth, we have to point it at the Earth within a few degrees.

And the better we point it, the higher the data rate we get. And so we do everything we can to successfully point it.

The nominal way to do that for us is to go and find out where the sun is. We do that with one of our imaging cameras our pan cam (ph). Before we started that process yesterday, we seated the Rover with our best estimate of its attitude heading based on a number of other activities, something called gyrocompassing where we sense the rotation of Mars in addition to looking at the shadows that we got from the images yesterday. And also doing some localization of some of the features that we saw on the horizon.

We were able to determine our heading was roughly about 171 degrees or primarily south facing. And from there we sent a sequence to the Rover yesterday for the camera to find the sun.

And I would like to bring up the first image, if I could. There you go. You don't even need your sunglasses. That is the sun from Mars. And if you go ahead and go to the second image, we've zoomed in a little bit. And the third image now is a composite.

So just as the ancient mariners used to use sextants to find, to locate themselves by shooting the sun, as they say, we were successfully able to shoot the sun using our pan cam. And able to determine our heading in particular and then properly use that information to point the high-gain antenna.

And I'd just like to point out that this is all done autonomously by the Rover itself. This is one of the higher level sets of functionality that the Rover has. And it was a very successful evolution. We pointed the antenna.

And for the final downlink of the day yesterday, we had a very strong downlink at 11,850 bits per second which is our maximum nominal rate on the high-gain antenna. So that all went extremely well.

One bit of engineering telemetry that we got back from that event is something we're going to spend a little time looking at. During the process of driving the high-gain antenna we have two motors, we have an elevation motor and an asthmuth (ph) motor. The elevation motor went driving in one direction, appeared to be slightly noisier than we've seen in testing here on the Earth.

It did not affect the performance of the mechanism. It is within the limits of the system. But we're going to spend a little time on Sol 3 pondering over that telemetry data. And so most of -- actually, all the communication sessions that we're going to do on Sol 3 will be on the low-gain antenna until we move back to the high gain antenna on Sol 4.

In addition to that, we spent some more time looking at the thermal and power sub systems. Again everything looks very healthy. I think we're starting to zero in on -- with help from Stevestein (ph) on what we believe the optical opacity of the atmosphere is and understand our solar rate power and why we're seeing what we're seeing. And so we're going to continue to do

that. But we have plenty of power margin, energy margin to get through the rest of our impact to egress and impact our nominal mission. And so that all looks good.

Finally we spent some time yesterday looking at the air bag imagery. And you have no doubt seen that there some areas where the air bags are puffed-up. We thought -- one of the things we were trying to do was determine whether, first of all, whether or not we were looking at airbags or whether we might be looking at some rocks.

And we have confirmed positively that, in fact, those puffed-up areas are, in fact, air bags. And so the next question is are there rocks underneath those air bags in those areas. And so we're going to spend a little time on Sol 3 today's activities, retracting the air bags a little bit further.

In particular, the base pedal air bag, we have tendons that go from our air bag retraction actuator mechanism fan out into the air bag. And so when we retract those we roll those tendons back up. And during the nominal critical deployment activities, we stop at a certain point.

We're going to go ahead and continue that activity tomorrow and roll them back up another three revolutions and see if that helps us out in particular with those two protrusions in front of the Rover.

And so to give you a little bit better look at those and to give you your first opportunity to look at some stereo imagery, we have brought in -- we have an (UNINTELLIGIBLE) image here that we'd like to go ahead and bring up.

This is where you all get to wear these lovely looking glasses. Generally, you want to use the red one on your left eye and the blue one on your right eye. Oh, you guys look great. You look terrific. And here you go, 3-D. We are panning around the back of the Rover at this point.



WALLACE: I'm just going to pause for a minute and let you guys take a look. OK, thank you, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to leave those on, though, you look so cool.

WALLACE: I feel like I'm in a very bad 1950s B-movie, actually. OK, we'll post those in the back. You'll have an opportunity to go back and take a closer look.

In the meantime, you can look at the picture up here on the screen. We're looking out the back of the Rover here. That metallic pipe-looking thing is actually our low-gain antenna which I mentioned before. The solar panels are fairly obvious.

And just out beyond the low-gain antenna is one of the protrusions I mentioned. That happens to be one we're not particularly worried about because we think it's unlikely that we're going to egress in the reverse direction.

And so what I want to get to then is go ahead and continue to pan around towards the front. We're moving around the port side of the vehicle. You can see the wing of the port secondary solar panel there.

And if you can stop there, that would be great. And that large white-looking thing to your right is actually just on the front left side of the Rover. And that is one of the air bag bubbles, if you will, that we are going to attempt to decrease in size by running these retraction actuators another three revolutions. OK, and if we go ahead and continue around a little farther. Steve's going to come back to this and walk you through some of the features on the horizon, so -- we're just passing the front of the vehicle now. The elevation is such that you can't see the lander, unfortunately.

And if we just stop there -- that's great -- you can just see the starboard solar panel starting to come into view on the right side. And just to the left of that is the -- is the bubble, the air bag, bubble, if you will, on the right front side of the Rover.

And so that will be the -- that will be one of the focus points here for Sol 3 is the retraction and a determination, the imagery to determine what happens to those bubbles.

With that I'd like to turn it over to my friend here, Steve Squyres.


Well as Matt said, the good news just keeps on coming. We had a great day yesterday, again, for the science team and by far the best day yet for the science payload.

As I told you yesterday, the focus of yesterday's activities from a science perspective was health checks. These are checks to verify that various scientific instruments have survived the shock of landing with air bags on the Martian surface.

And I am thrilled to be able to tell you that the microscopic imager and the APSX and the Moss-Bower (ph) spectrometer have all checked out beautifully.

Now I've got to confess, I was scared about the Moss-Bower. This is an instrument that malfunctioned on us during (UNINTELLIGIBLE). In fact, Matt helped lead a team to try to troubleshoot what was going on. Over a period of several months, we managed to find a way to change the way in which we operate the instrument, get it so it was working OK.

But any time you have an instrument that undergoes some kind of mechanical damage which seems like what was going on here, this thing had gone through some substantial shake as the rocket was launched, then it was not working properly once we got into flight. And it scared the living daylights out of us.

And I didn't know what we were going to see after we hit the ground. And you should have seen the scene in the Moss-Bower room yesterday when the data came down. You guys have all seen I guess the video in the control room. The night we landed when we got the tones on the surface. And everybody was jumping up and down and cheering and hugging and tears. It was the same thing only in German. It was just wonderful.

The German thing is actually an important point that I want to take a moment to mention. MER is an international mission, it has an international payload. Of the six instruments on the payload, two of them are provided by our international partner, by Germany. We also have some significant contributions from Denmark as well.

The APSX was done at the Max Plunk Institute (ph) for Cosmo Chemistry in Meinz, Germany. The Moss-Bower, which is now happily on the surface of Mars in great shape, was done at the University of Meinz. Both of these were funded by DLR, the German space agency. And we just couldn't be more thrilled to have all these instruments, microscopic imager as well, doing well.

Now, I'll say right up front, we're not out of the woods yet. The (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is still locked in place. And we have to five some pyros to let those loose. That pyro firing is the last significant jolt that we're going to see. We're going to check the Moss-Bower again after pyro. But I'm telling you I'm feeling real, real good about that.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So the good news keeps on coming as he says. The good news from the jet propulsion lab. The good news from Mars that this Rover, this Spirit, is in fact doing precisely what the scientists at NASA hoped it would be doing, bringing back these images back to the United States for study to determine whether or not there has been water on Mars ever.


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