Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Martian Rover Chronicles


It's not even a remote understatement that Roverman Scott Maxwell has the most colorful profile I've ever seen on any NASA website, anywhere. And until I met him, I was pretty sure *I* had the coolest job...

Wouldn't you love to have his business card? "Computer Programmer & Mars Rover Driver". Awesome. When one has the opportunity to explore a famous campus like the JPL with a passionate host who loves showing all the minutiae of NASA hardware, right down to the legends of how they were designed and named -- you've just as good as had a tour of the moon by Buzz Aldrin.

There is nothing quite so compelling as someone who rushes happily work each day, and honestly cannot think of anything he'd rather be doing.

Spacecraft Assembly Facility
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

A major highlight of the day was when Scott took us to the Spacecraft Assembly Facility. Also featured is Laksen Sirimanne, a two-time crew member of the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), who I'll be blogging about next week in another series about Martian analogs.

Together, we all peeked down into the SAF's massive clean room at Curiosity, the new Mars Science Laboratory, and I've uploaded almost everything to my JPL Picasa Gallery if you wish to see the room interior.

To see technicians working their daily magic, you can also watch the LIVE Curiosity CAM! Just video, no audio… but the best we can hope for until someone at NASA TV clevers up and gives Scott his own television show!

Rover Crossing
Office Humor

We got our fill of Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Project Office art, and saw the Rovers' Mission Control Center. Scott gave us the rundown on all their adventures on the surface of Mars, with articulate introspection and meaning beyond the hard science. What does it mean to explore another planet? Truly, we are lucky to be alive at such a special time in history, where we can witness amazing views of our solar system in a way humanity never has before, and Scott is one of those people whose innate sensitivity and appreciation has never been dulled by mechanics, software code or red tape.

The Road to Endeavour blog has some wonderful detail about what it's like to explore Mars from "behind the wheel" of a rover, and some of the journeys taken by Scott's twin girls, Spirit and Opportunity! I had planned to speak about "Oppy" myself, but I know when I've been "out-written" and definitely recommend this blog for anyone who would like to see every move a Mars rover makes!

That would be Laksen with a rover wheel on his head.
And why not.

I also feel like maybe I've been unknowingly following Scott around cyberspace; we've both been interviewed by the Planetary Society, we've both been spot-lighted by Universe Today, we've both been featured in the Pars3c High Five… so I'm thinking about trying to talk him into doing a NASA Micro-Gravity Study, just so we can both say we set FOX News New York straight about myth vs. science ;)

If you do nothing else this week in the blogosphere, take a humpday break and check out some of his growing lexicon, because you will be able to say you read his early work before his many books are published.

On his first blog, he has a moving personal tale about how Ray Bradbury visited his team's project office, and drove a rover on Mars, in essence "connecting to him to that world he has imagined for so long". And if you like that, you'll love hearing about his first one-on-one meeting with Bradbury where he got the famous author to sign perhaps the most interesting celebrity autograph I've ever seen, and with pretty unapologetic flamboyance, I might add.

Definitely need to remember this trick if I ever get to meet Neil deGrasse Tyson at a book-signing. Stay tuned tomorrow for Rover testing goodness in mock martian soil, and Scott's current projects!