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AMASE 2007: Rover Testing
I’m back from a long day in the field and I’m exhausted. Today was another field deployment/SOWG day. I was in the field, acting as the “Deep Space Network” running a memory stick between the field site and the SOWG. I spent some time with the field party up in a gully containing many fossils. Later in the day I ran some of the selected rock samples down to the ship and secretly analyzed them on the GCMS unbeknownst to the rest of the SAM team! In early evening we set up an antennae to transfer data from the shore to boat electronically. At that point, I started hanging out with the rover doing tests near the shore.

The rover had a very successful day completing their task of sampling soil with their scoop and placing the sample in a clean cache box. One of the goals on AMASE is to better understand sample contamination; how easily samples and equipment can get contaminated and how best to control this contamination. Maia had swabs to measure the abundance of cell activity on different parts of the rover sampling system during various stages of sampling. I’m not exactly sure what the results of this test were, except to say that cells increase in abundance when cleaned surfaces are exposed to air and when they come in contact with other living organisms. It is clear that as we go to Mars, contamination will continue to be an important topic. We want to make sure that when we search for life on Mars we aren’t just detecting microbial life we brought with us from Earth.

Today, Paul Mahaffy, the PI for SAM has added some more detailed Notes about today and his experience on the SOWG team.

We are marching rapidly toward the end of a long Friday August 24. After breakfast the AMASE team split up into three groups. Group 1 was the rover team that took the Clif Bot out into the field to check out the repairs that Mike and the rest of the dedicated rover team had carried out to late in the night. The Group 1 activity was highly successful with a new electronics board in the rover fixing the problems that the rover team had discovered yesterday in the field.

Groups 2 and 3 spent the entire day immersed in the second simulated Science Operations Working Group (SOWG) exercise. Group two was deployed to the field after breakfast to create a preliminary data set consisting of images that would be relayed back to the R.V. Lance and examined by Group 3 (the Science Operations Working Group or SOWG) to provide preliminary analysis and to decide what to do next with the rover tools (in this case, the full set of rover cameras, the microscopic imager, the UV experiment, the remote Raman, and in the analytical laboratory the XRD/XRF, the GCMS, and the life marker chip). Data was relayed back to the Lance several times over the course of a long day and measurement directions relayed back to the “rover” – Group 2. The methodology for getting error free instructions to a robotic explorer on Mars had been developed and refined by Steve Squyres and the MER (Mars Exploration Rover) science and engineering teams over the past several years and the AMASE team has been fortunate to have Steve participating in this exercise. Steve played the role of the mission manager and the SOWG was capably chaired by Liane Benning. In the end, a successful traverse was made to an interesting outcrop where sample was collected and delivered to the Analytical Laboratory Experiments on the 5th and 6th “sol” of this exercise.

The SOWG activity is an excellent way to prepare for surface operations using robotic tools on the surface of Mars. Nearly every Mars day (a sol) a new error free command set must be uploaded to the rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Having experienced MER team members, Steve and Ashley, aboard the R.V. Lance orchestrating our field work through the eyes of a simulated or real rover is an excellent way of learning the discipline necessary to efficiently utilize a Mars rover and keep it safe.

Kirsten Fristad
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center