Today was the first day of the Ames science experiments! The scientists in California got to pretend for a day that Nomad was a robot exploring Mars. For those of us here in the Atacama, the red hills, lack of vegetation, and strong windy dust storms made it seem even more like Mars.
We were aided by scientists from a nearby university in Antofagasta. Professor Guillermo Chong Diaz and his associates from the Universidad Cato'lica del Norte came out to the desert to provide "ground truth" to the scientists in California. The Chilean scientists prepared the site for exploration, and were on hand to take notes about the area actually explored by Nomad. They spent the day scurrying about behind Nomad, doing their best to hide from the view of the Ames stereo cameras. By the end of the day, the scientists in California had formed an hypothesis about the geology of the area, and spoke with the the Chilean science team to see how well they had done at analyzing the area. This is one of the most challenging aspects of our study; to determine whether Nomad provides enough information to enable human scientists to do their job without actually being here. We couldn't have better partners than the team at NASA Ames; the roboticists and scientists there have worked on remote robotic operations and studies for years.
Since this was our first day of science operations, we had our share of problems. There were radio communications problems, the source of gasoline for our generators dozens of kilometers away ran dry, the aerial imagery of the site didn't quite match up with the GPS coordinates of the vehicle, and more. But still the remote scientists managed to get an accurate description of the area, as confirmed by Professor Chong.
The scientists performed most of their analyses with the Ames Science Cameras. This is a set of four cameras, or two pairs of stereo cameras. One pair is used to provide an overall view; these cameras have a relatively wide field of view of about 40 degrees. The other pair provides very detailed information of a small area; their field of view is only 8 degrees. What's important about these cameras is that they provide as much information as a human would be able to see; their resolution is comparable to that of the human eye, i.e., 0.25 milliradians per pixel. That means that the images seen by the scientists back in California are the same as if they'd actually been standing here looking at the terrain (albeit through a small opening).
Tomorrow we will continue the Mars simulation studies in a new area.