Mars operations continued today. Once again Nomad's path was dictated by remote scientists interested in discovering the geology of the area, especially as preparation for the exploration of Mars.
Today was a very successful day for the remote scientists at NASA Ames. The word from California was that the operations center there was a flurry of motion, with scientists going back and forth between stations to study the imagery received from Nomad. Using Nomad they were able to explore half a dozen different science sites, which required driving Nomad for about a kilometer. Although they had started the day with a specific set of sites to visit, they were open to new possibilities made possible by Nomad. At one point they had tried to climb a steep bank, but the loose soil made it difficult to climb the hill. They ended up backing down, and saw that the wheels had dug about 6 inches into the soil. Instead of being discouraged by this, they said "we just created science site 6," and proceeded to study the newly excavated site. By the end of the day they were extremely satisfied with the work that had been accomplished.
We continue to learn how to streamline our operations here. Yesterday we ran into a problem when our radio batteries gave out long before sunset. That made it rather difficult to stay in touch with people several miles away. Today we ran things a bit differently: instead of relying solely on the radios, we replaced one of the links with a computer "talk" connection, so that messages were typed rather than spoken between the command truck and the hilltop relay station. As a result, we were able to maintain communications throughout the daylight hours.
We do have our share of problems. Our hilltop station ran out of fuel early this afternoon due largely to the gasoline shortage from yesterday. And our four-wheel drive trucks are taking quite a beating, which has resulted in their having some problems starting up. But we make the best of things; team member Michael Parris felt like MacGyver today, since he had to use his multi-purpose leatherman tool so often. And the timing of the hilltop station outage was much appreciated by the Ames scientists, who took the opportunity to eat lunch.
The panospheric imagery has been a tremendous boon to the robot drivers at NASA Ames. Folks like Dan Christian and Maria Bualat use it to help them navigate through potentially hazardous areas. Today it enabled them to descend a 24 degree slope, and even briefly traverse a 28 degree slope at an angle. The scientists seem to favor the more traditional, uniformly high resolution science cameras, but even they find themselves using the panospheric camera to help locate Nomad prior to zooming in using the specially-constructed science cameras.
As one of our team put it, living in the Atacama is "like fun, but different." The view from the hilltop relay station is incredible, but the ears of today's scout got sunburned. The weather during the daytime is a balmy 65-70 degrees Fahrenheit, but by 1800 hours the 30+ miles per hour duststorms have begun. Our operations truck is outfitted with a heater and fans, but the fans only seem to run at night when the cold wind opens up the vents and starts turning them.
Tomorrow it's on to a simulated Lunar exploration mission. We look forward to Nomad's performance on its "home territory". And we hope the remote scientists do not end up in the salty basin of the Salar de la Atacama, since that's where some team members discovered actual mud today. We would love to explore for ice on the Lunar poles, but somehow doubt that there will be compliant mud up there.