Status Report

NASA MER 2003/Athena Update Week Ending July 12, 2003

By SpaceRef Editor
July 15, 2003
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We spent this week preparing for one of the first big events of the
mission…the first cruise checkout sequence.

All of our science instruments were turned off at launch, and
they’ve been off ever since then. Mars is where they’ll do their
job, so there’s not much point in having them turned on all the way
to Mars. But launch is a dangerous and violent event, and we want to
take enough data during the cruise to Mars to be sure that the
instruments survived the launch and are working properly. So this
coming week we’re going to send commands to all the instruments on
Spirit, turning them on and taking data.

We’ve had to do a lot of work to prepare for this. We have what we
call a "testbed" on the ground, which is a very accurate replica of
the rover and all its instruments. Before you send any commands to a
spacecraft this complicated, it’s a good idea to try them out on the
ground first, and that’s what we’ve been doing, in the testbed, this
week. Everything has looked okay, so we expect the commands to work
properly once we send them to the spacecraft.

We don’t expect to see much in the data that we get back next week,
of course, since the rover’s safely tucked inside the aeroshell.
It’s dark in there, so the pictures from all the cameras, for
example, will just be black. But even from black images we can tell
whether or not the cameras are healthy, and that’s all we need to
know. The pretty pictures and exciting spectra can come later. If
everything’s in good shape, we’ll all breathe a sigh of relief. And
if something’s gone wrong, we can start figuring out what to do
about it now, instead of having to wait until we’re on Mars next

So fingers are crossed, and we’ll see what we see next week.

SpaceRef staff editor.