NASA JPL dignitaries at Wild About Mars

Wes Huntress, formerly NASA’s head of scientific exploration: introducing Ed Weiler, the man in charge of this country’s scientific exploration – Hubble telescope and interplanetary exploration. This is the man who’s responsible for making sure Spirit and Opportunity worked, and got the money they needed.

Ed Weiler: Nice to be with you, a better reception than with media last night… one media person, but you told us that we’re not going to get this for another couple of days. 6 minutes from “hades”… I’ve worked at NASA for 25 years. Until now the only event that rivals this was — I was chief scientist of Hubble–fixing Hubble. This has been outstanding. Credit to JPL…

I was extremely thrilled when I saw the first image come down, and see how flat the terrain was. I wondered why.. There’s a good chance that we’ll last more than 90 days. I’m going to push hard. After 90 days.. I’d like to pick a direction and go over that next hill. [applause]

Charles Elachi, JPL director’s comments (lost what I typed, but I’ll recap). Exciting to see exploration happen in real time last night. You saw the excitement, the frustration, the waiting. Most of these missions succeed, but we also fail. But when we fail, it’s because we’re doing something good. You do homework, you try to do great things, and if you fail, it’s okay. you learn from it. We learned from what happened in 1999, and we have Odyssey orbiting, and Spirit on the ground, and soon, Opportunity. Have a permanent presence on Mars.

Tomorrow morning, go back to work to make sure that Opportunity works well…

Question: If each of us were to write our congressman and tell em something, what would you want that to be?

Answer: Letters in support of exploration. Not a particular planet, but just support of exploration.

Q: What would it take to get humans to Mars?

A: That involves technology, involves funding, involves [something]. If we had enough money and a goal, we could get there in 20 years. We don’t know how to make them survive the radiation of space; don’t know that yet.

Aggressive robotic program that preceded Apollo program, run out of JPL… names 3 that happened, before we sent humans.

It’ll take billions. It’ll take robotic exploration. Also need to know where to go, same land amount there as on earth. Need national commitment.

Q: What about sending, say, 20 smaller sized rovers?

A: It’s been an idea we’ve thrown around…. a mothership with smaller ships… We’ve sent out a call for proposals among whole scientist community. We’d like to see that happen.

Introduce: Donna Shirley, former director of Pathfinder

introducing Rob Manning, in charge of entry, descent and landing.

Rob Manning: This experience over 3.5 years is very different… a major team effort; incredible organization of people among NASA and other companies in order to pull off this feat of all these vehicles talking to each other. Whereas Pathfinder was this small thing we put together, but it was a shoestring job by comparison,. We’re all proud of this family of people… I’m a talking head, I can take very little credit for all these incredible group of people.

How it felt last night– I was the systems engineering manager, and after launch, narrowed sights, focus strictly on landing. Mark Adler done wonderful job getting vehicles landing. All I had to do is worry about 6 minutes.. I mean, how tough is that?

I was sitting there, watching it happen. One job, sit next to Polly Estabrook and Wayne Lee, and figure out what was going on. We were very shocked at what we saw. At press conference yesterday afternoon, we said it was unlikely for tones to show up. And there we were saw tones that radar was working. I was surprised. Shocked at how well this worked. one of the action items for the team is to figure out why it worked so well. We wrote something called an ISA Incident Surprise Anomaly report… (joking)

We were reporting tones, and Wayne Lee was interpreting that to everyone. Thought we had tones on ground. All jumping up and down. Then I realized that I did the math wrong…

then we hear this funny message, that Stanford is picking up UHF signal. I didn’t ask them to do it. (as lander repels down on bridle, it has an ultra high frequency walkie talkie, it’s only supposed to work to point that airbags deploy)… to get a signal at earth, Stanford.. I thought, no, these guys are wrong. I thought this is not happening, they’re getting an airplane flying overhead. But no, they got it, that was the first confirmation.. to their credit they pulled it off w/o our even making a request that they do that. Also kudos to Deep Space Network, Canberra and Goldstone…

we do have some new information… it turns out the vehicle was balancing on a knife edge on two sides of the bag, and we could actually see the signal going up and down. So it was an enormous amt. of fun to get our signal back, and to get our tones. tones were almost 10 db above our expectations, a huge amount in radio land. Data transmission were constant, transmitted so much data. we’re analyzing.

We tend to design for worst case. so we got all of our data. As soon as Odyssey goes over the horizon, until it sets, and it send lots of UHF data… vastly more than we have expected. We’re sending more data than we have actually planned. (I’m afraid I’m going to jinx it it’s going so well…)

we kept data for longer period of time, but at least 20-some bounces. By this evening, we’ll have processed it and figure out exactly how many times we bounced. These airbags are good superballs… if we could harness it and sell it. have you ever bounced anything for 60 minutes? these airbags are good energy absorbers… it’s very effective bouncers.

And did you see these images we got on the way down. One is either the heat shield on the way down or a shadow of the parachute. Hopefully by this evening we’ll have pinpointed where in Gusev we landed.

We’re definitely on Mars… it was definitely windy. If we hadn’t used those rockets, we’d have 60 mph horizontally. With rockets, we were moving about 25 mph, that’s some good wind… we’ve had dust in upper atmosphere. it’s affected our density… we may make changes for how we land Opportunity in the next few weeks. But so far, so good…. thanks for your enthusiasm, and it was a kick in the butt. Thank you very much.

Charles Elachi: About that question what would you say to your congressman? I just got word from our web people in last 24 hours, 460 million hits. It’s a world record, even more than Olympics… shows you how much interest there’s been in this mission. And this is only weekend, wait till Monday when people get to work with high speed access.

From Q & A to Rob Manning: yes, good way to protect against sandstorms, and possible to use wheels to dig into the ground. wheels one way, and then rotate and dig another way.

Q (young voice): What is the future of the rover that just landed? We’ll run the rover until it runs out of “gas” … gets energy from solar panels, over time, dust accumulates on solar panels. we designed it to work for 90 sols (90 Mars days, 3 months), it might work longer, but it’ll be there until we can send people there to pick them up…