January 25, 2004

Spirit and Opportunity

Ian notes that Opportunity, the second Mars Exploration Rover, has landed successfully, and that Spirit has been resurrected and is talking regularly with the MER flight controllers again. Huzzah!

All of which I knew, of course, but only because I go look at the JPL Website just like everyone else.

For those of you who've met me personally, and who thought, just maybe, just possibly, that you might have spotted me on TV in the back of the crowd of leaping, rejoicing, cheering folks in the control room at JPL....well, nope, I wasn't there. You either had to be on the MER team, or be a big wig of some kind to be there. Arnold Shwarzenegger was there. So was Al Gore, which possibly disproves my point, but there you go.

Nevertheless, I do work at JPL; I'm one of the software engineers for the Deep Space Network--specifically, on the Uplink end of things. Consequently everything I do is multi-mission, that is, it supports all of the spacecraft tracked by the DSN rather than just MER. But I do feel a small touch of pride at the current goings-on on Mars, because every time they talk to one of the rovers, my software is involved. But even then, I work on just one system of many that are needed for successful communication.

Tracking and operating planetary spacecraft is a big job, and it takes a big team; and everybody on the team has to do everything right. And most of them have been quietly getting it right for so long that we tend to forget what a difficult service they are providing. So...here's to everyone involved!

Congratulations to the MER development and flight teams: you done good! Congratulations to the Deep Space Mission System folks who developed the ground data systems used to generate spacecraft commands and process telemetry. Congratulations to the Navigation folks. Congratulations to the DSMS operators who keep the data flowing. Congratulations to the operators and engineers and maintenance folk at the DSN's Deep Space Communications Complexes in California, Spain, and Australia.

When I first went to work on software for the DSN, my then boss (who was trying to talk me out of it) said, "Will, there's no glory in ground systems." And he was right, of course. But if there's no glory, there's a great deal of quiet satisfaction.

Posted by Will Duquette at January 25, 2004 07:31 AM