NOMAD REACHES 200 KILOMETERS!!!!
Nomad has achieved its primary objective! It has been driven through 200 kilometers of the Atacama desert by remote or autonomous control. The amount of distance covered during this demonstration of remote robotic exploration is unprecedented; no other planetary exploration robot has been driven so far and so quickly.
Many aspects of the Trek make this result even more unique and significant. There was constant public outreach: nearly all of the daytime operations were directed from a public display in the Carnegie Science Center; live video and mileage updates appeared in real time on the Web (and still do!); and some folks in Pittsburgh even got to drive Nomad from the comfort of their homes. Several new camera systems were proven effective: over 1,000,000 360-degree panospheric images were sent over the satellite link; the science cameras convinced geologists that remote science was viable; and the stereo navigation cameras have been in operation for over 40 days without needing to be recalibrated. The round-the-clock high bandwidth communication, stowable locomotion system, autonomous driving capability and other featured systems all combined to make these first 200 kilometers an engrossing experience for both the general public and remote scientists as well.
This was also a cause for celebration here in the field. We apologize if the panospheric views of champagne showers detracted from the usual gorgeous desert views, but we are afraid it could not be helped. We marked the location where it crossed the 200 kilometer mark with a special Nomad sign, and we hope it survives at least a few more days (if the Carnegie Science Center folks can restrain themselves from running it over).
We were not quite sure we would make the 200 km mark today. There had been problems with the wheel bearings yesterday, and the Nomad team in Pittsburgh had to vacate the display area for over an hour shortly before hitting 200. But the wheels worked fine, and unwilling to let the lack of remote drivers slow it down, Nomad doggedly (and autonomously) drove itself through 557 meters of the 199'th kilometer, before yielding control to the Carnegie Science Center.
Following the celebration in the field of the crossing of the 200 kilometer mark, we raced back to our stations to get set up for another round of Rover TV. In this mode, live panospheric imagery is broadcast to the entire Pittsburgh community during a program on cable TV channel PC-TV. And those who wish to drive it can do so by looking at their TV to see what's in front of Nomad, and dialing numbers on their phones to steer it or pan its imagery around to a new direction. The program lasted an hour and was quite successful.
But in spite of our happiness at reaching this primary objective, we still have lots of work to do; more extensive testing of Nomad's systems will occur during the next week, and more kilometers will be gained. So stay tuned, we will be online and working all the way through the end of our satellite connection at the end of 31 July.