(Llano de la Paciencia)

The Final Day

I didn't know if I'd got to this crazy place by rocket, space dodger, time twister - or maybe even on foot the way I felt so beat. My memory was gone. When I woke up there was just the desert all around me with the gray sky pressing down like the ceiling of an enormous room. The desert ... and the big trek.
                                                                       from --- The Big Trek --- Fritz Leiber

Today was the final day of remote operations here in Chile; the end of the Atacama Desert Trek! Nomad has accomplished a great deal; it has been driven for over 215 kilometers by remote or autonomous control, has demonstrated several new technologies for planetary exploration, and has involved an enthusiastic public directly in robotic operations for space.

The big event for those of us here in the desert was a group interview that was broadcast live in Santiago, the capital of Chile. Many technicians arrived in the desert to ensure proper communication with the theater there, and at the appointed time we all sat down in front of the camera. It was a novel experience using a chair in the quicksand-like terrain near the operations truck. The interview went well, as most of the questions were fielded or translated by native Chilean team member Alex who arrived just in time for the conference. We were happy to participate and provide a summary of the preliminary results from our work here in the desert.

There were a few problems starting up before the conference. We had heard a novel kind of noise coming from one of the wheels, the network hub equipment in our operations truck inexplicably died and had to be replaced, and there were no trucks to get some of our team members from camp (the soldiers' truck had broken down on the road, as we learned five hours later when one of them arrived walking into camp). But in spite of this "demo-itis", we managed to get things rolling in time to have Nomad climb the hill so it would be visible in the background during the interview from Santiago.

After the press conference, we were greeted by dozens of anxious visitors: parents, teachers, and lots of children from the nearby town of Calama. The kids were very excited, watching Nomad drive in circles, watching its chassis expand and contract, jumping around it, running away whenever they heard the pop of a rock under its wheels. Eventually we stopped it, and they got to see and touch it up close. Many photos were taken, and many autographs were demanded. All of us happily obliged, though it was a bit overwhelming. Many children had also prepared questions to ask us; how big is Nomad, why is it in the Atacama, how does it compare with the robot on Mars? It was quite a workout for the non-native Spanish speakers, but a pleasant one.

Even with all the excitement, our work here was not done. We got things rolling again by 1330, and drove Nomad autonomously or remotely controlled from the Carnegie Science Center for the rest of the afternoon. By the end of the day Nomad had accumulated an additional 1161 meters of autonomous operation, and 1061 meters of safeguarded operation from the science center. Operations even continued past 1900 hours as our team performed additional tests of the waypoint code, sending Nomad through an intricate pattern.

I write this final update only hours before our satellite connection is turned off. This has been an amazing summer for all of us here in the desert; each day has been filled with incredible vistas, high technology, logistical problems, language difficulties, and every day a new appreciation of life in the desert. The Atacama is a beautiful place; a "dry, lifeless desert" with rainbows, bushes, butterflies, and seemingly limitless Moon- and Mars-like terrain. We are grateful for our time here, and look forward to an opportunity to return; maybe with a little more free time.

Atacama Desert Personnel:
Deepak Bapna CMU Communications Lead
Steven Dow U Iowa Data logging, Waypoint mapping
X - Alex Foessel CMU Kinematics, Coordinator "Cometa Halley"
Carlos Guestrin CMU Skyline Position Estimation
X - Mark Maimone CMU Navigation, Software Lead
X - Michael Parris CMU Site Operations Lead
Liam Pedersen CMU Meteorite Search
April Rathe U Iowa Site logistics
Sergio Rios Lara Ejercito de Chile "Rivers"
X - Eric Rollins CMU Project Manager, Mechanical Lead
Ben Shamah CMU Fabrication Lead
X - Mark Sibenac CMU Real Time Software Lead "Snupy"
Juan Solis Ejercito de Chile  
X - Jim Teza CMU Electronics Lead
Hans Thomas Ames High-tech Handyman [too many to list]
Red Whittaker CMU Principal Investigator
CMU = Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute
Ejercito de Chile = Chilean Infantry Regiment 7, Esmeralda
Ames = NASA Ames Research Center
U Iowa = University of Iowa Grok Laboratory
X = in the desert for the entire Trek

Last Modified on: Mon Aug 4, 1997