Wednesday, April 15, 2020

NASA takes working from Home to Operate Mars

NASA takes working from Home to Operate Mars

Programming each sequence of actions for the rover may involve 20 or so people developing and testing commands in one place while chatting with dozens of others located elsewhere. In anticipation of what they would need to make that happen from home, the team assembled headsets, monitors and other equipment in advanced. 

Like so many other workers around the world affected by a COVID-19 lockdown, the team of scientists that operates the U.S. space agency (NASA) probe Curiosity — currently on the surface of Mars — has been forced to do its work from home.

Since March 20, the team, normally based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in southern California, has been forced to direct the rover while working separately from their homes.

Some adaptations were needed as well. Rover operators rely on special three-dimensional goggles to help them drive Curiosity over the Martian landscape. But those can only be run using JPL computers, so researchers were forced to rely on simple 3D glasses, similar to the kind you might get at a 3D movie, to view images on laptops.

The team found that it could do its job using multiple video conferences and messaging apps. Two days after they set up remotely, the team directed Curiosity to drill for a rock sample at a Martian location called "Edinburgh."

Science operations team chief Carrie Bridge says she still checks in on the team to make sure things are running smoothly, but does so virtually, calling into as many as four videoconferences at the same time.

Working from home during the coronavirus pandemic is an adjustment for everyone, even for the NASA scientists operating the Curiosity rover on Mars. The Curiosity team began fully remote operations due to the coronavirus in March, according to a release Tuesday from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Headsets and monitors were distributed to employees but some sophisticated hardware, like 3D-imaging goggles used to navigate the rover through the rocky Mars landscape, couldn't be sent home, NASA said. The team resolved the hardware issue by instead using simple red-blue 3D glasses to help plan drives and arm movements.

The team is also relying more heavily on video conferences and messaging apps in order to communicate, NASA said. Normally, the Curiosity team works with hundreds of other scientists around the world. To program an action for the rover alone takes 20 or so scientists,UFC MMA according to NASA.

Regardless of the hurdles, NASA said the Curiosity rover is as productive as ever.

Curiosity is NASA's only functioning rover on Mars at the moment, but it will hopefully soon be joined by Perseverance, which is scheduled to launch in July. Curiosity has been in residence on Mars since 2012 and it continues to seek out signs of ancient microbial life.