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19 November 2012

MSL Instrument Papers Available!

Just in time for the thanksgiving holiday, Space Science Reviews has released its special issue containing all the instrument papers for MSL, along with papers describing the mission’s overall goals, the landing site selection process, and the studies of the atmosphere that helped NASA stick the landing. So this year while you wait for the turkey to cook, take a look at some of these papers and learn about the awesome laboratory that is exploring Mars and give thanks that we live at a time when such things are possible. I’m sure your family won’t mind once you tell them what interesting stuff you’re reading… :)


15 August 2012

What time is it on Mars? Science Time.

We’re wrapping up the flight software update on Curiosity and getting ready to continue the commissioning phase, testing out each instrument in turn and gathering new science data. As you have seen, the cameras were already busy before the software update. That’s because taking a picture is relatively simple: the only movement involved is the rover mast and the focus. ChemCam is more complicated than taking a photo, but it …


11 August 2012

First Full-Resolution Mastcam Panorama

Feast your eyes on this: As you can see, there are still a few frames missing, but still. Wow. I love the way the crater rim fades in the distance, and the tantalizing glimpses at the layers of Mt. Sharp. The foreground is plenty interesting too, with a variety of rock shapes and colors, and of course the rocks exposed by the blast of the skycrane’s rockets. I feel like …


Sols 4 to 5: New Flight Software, MSL memes

After my uplink shift yesterday, I managed to catch a few hours of sleep before coming in at 3am. Today was my day off, you see. You may be wondering why one would come in to work at 3am on one’s day off. Answer: because that’s when the science happens! Actually, I mis-read the schedule. The science theme group meetings were more like 1am, but I got in in time …


10 August 2012

Sol 3 to 4: Colorful Gale

Today was a long day for ChemCam uplink. We are planning to collect the first passive spectra of the calibration target on Sol 4, and that means it is also the first time that the ChemCam optics will be focused, placing the instrument at risk for damage from the sun if it is pointed incorrectly.


8 August 2012

Introducing ChemRex!

I neglected to mention one important development from yesterday. On landing night, after I had finished freaking out about our successful safe landing, I noticed that fellow ChemCam post-doc Nina Lanza was wearing a very special ChemCam shirt with this on the front: As a big fan of lasers and dinosaurs (my favorite toys as a kid were DinoRiders), I had to ask about it. Apparently Nina had made an …


Sol 2 to 3: First Navcams, and some new craters

There was a lot of excitement today because the remote sensing mast successfully deployed and overnight we received the first full-resolution images from the navigation cameras.


Sol 1 to 2: MAHLI landscape, HiRISE Crime Scene

So, remember the awesome new data that I was geeking out about at the end of my previous post, but which I couldn’t share? Well, it has now been discussed at a press conference, so I’m free to share it. First up, here’s the image that made the ChemCam team shout out loud because of its sheer awesomeness…


6 August 2012


We made it! Curiosity is safely on the surface of Mars and is returning some spectacular data!


Dare Mighty Things

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”


5 August 2012

Sol -1: Planetfest, and ChemCam team rocks the house

  Today I managed to start off getting a bit of work done, then headed down to Planetfest, where I helped out with the Google Mars station for a while, giving tours of Gale crater and answering questions. In the afternoon, I was on a panel moderated by Emily Lakdawalla with a bunch of other young scientists and engineers, talking about how we got involved in space exploration. The panel …


4 August 2012

Sol -2: Loose ends, interviews, landing site bingo, and Pixar

With this blog entry, I’m switching over to a more journal-like style that I will hopefully use throughout the mission. When there are Big Science Ideas to talk about related to the mission, I will of course try to explain them in their own posts, but I am also going to be doing posts like this one (although likely not usually as long), sharing what my day was like, what the ups and downs were, and hopefully providing a window into what it’s like to be involved in the mission without crossing the line into that which must not be blogged.


3 August 2012

MSL: Mars Action Hero

You know, I’m tired of hearing about how the Mars Exploration Rovers are so cute, and spunky, but their successor Mars Science Lab is big and ugly. MSL isn’t supposed to be cute, it’s supposed to be awesome.

Just how awesome, you ask? I’ll tell you how awesome.


5 Ways Landing on Mars is like Having a Baby

As we draw closer and closer to Curiosity’s landing, I can’t help but think that there are some important similarities between landing on Mars and having a baby. Before you ask: no, I don’t actually know what it is like to have a kid. For that matter, I also have never experienced the landing of a Mars mission that I have been involved with. But in both cases, I know enough …


2 August 2012

Curiosity is Going Home

This morning when I was walking the dog, I paused to appreciate the sight of the early sunlight shining through the dew-drenched grass and sparkling on the dripping ponderosa pine branches. It was a nice peaceful moment, and it made me think of what a different world we’re sending Curiosity to. The amount of liquid water that I saw glimmering on the grass this morning probably hasn’t been seen anywhere …


1 August 2012

5 days…

I don’t have much time to post since I am currently wrestling some particularly beastly paper revisions that need to be done by the end of the week before my life gets really complicated. But I wanted to mention a few things here before I dive back into revisions: Curiosity has already switched over to its Entry, Descent and Landing sequence. From the @MarsCuriosity twitter feed: “Timeline activated. Bleep-bop. I’m running …


28 July 2012

Blogging MSL

You guys. MSL lands in 8 days! My brain is having trouble grasping how soon that is. Later this week I pack up and drive to Pasadena, where I’ll be sharing an apartment with my supervisor and working on the mission. I expect it to be exciting and exhausting and fascinating and of course, I want to share it all here on the blog.

Except I can’t.


18 July 2012

MSL Care Package – Thank You Dunoon Students!

I had a very nice surprise when I came in to work today: a large box from Dunoon Grammar School in Scotland! A while back, Hugh O’Donnell, an English teacher at Dunoon contacted me, inquiring if I might be willing to answer some student questions about MSL. He is organizing an awesome interdisciplinary project in which students produce a piece of Mars-themed writing. They will also have Mars-themed lessons in …


10 July 2012

MSL Landing Dress Rehearsal

Now that I have moved out to Flagstaff and am starting to get settled in, it’s time to leave! I’m headed to JPL this week for the final Operational Readiness Test (ORT) before MSL lands. This test will be a “dress rehearsal” of events as they are expected to occur when Curiosity lands on August 5, and for the following 2 sols. We will even be working on Mars time …


12 June 2012

Curiosity gets an improved landing ellipse!

Yesterday NASA hosted a call-in press conference for reporters to announce some good news and some bad news about Curiosity. The good news: the landing system is going to be even more precise than expected. The bad news: the drill sheds teflon that gets into the samples.