Interview with a Mars rover driver: Scott Maxwell of JPL

Photo (NASA JPL): The first two full-resolution images of the Martian surface from the Navigation cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover, which are located on the rover's "head" or mast. The rim of Gale Crater can be seen in the distance beyond the pebbly ground.


Thomas Hayden at science blog The Last Word On Nothing has a wonderful little interview with Scott Maxwell (@marsroverdriver), who works at JPL as a Mars rover driver. Coolest job ever, right?

I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Maxwell at JPL a few weeks before Curiosity touched down, when I accompanied Miles O'Brien on a shoot about MSL for PBS NewsHour. Loved him, and I love how he describes what makes his job so exhilarating:

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I drove her.  It was just a few meters along a simple path — we wouldn’t even bother to yawn at it today — but it was magic to me then, as it’s magic to me now.  I went home and should have slept, but all I could do was stare at the ceiling, in awe that right then, on Mars, there was a robot doing what I told it to do.  It was dead amazing, and that feeling has never left me and I hope it never will.

Read the rest here: SCUBA Diving through the Endless Martian Desert : The Last Word On Nothing.

What NASA fears most on Mars (image)

"Curiosity makes me very angry, very angry indeed!"

By David Silverman, of Simpsons and Tubatron fame.

Mars Curiosity Rover: Boing Boing's $2.5 billion dollar question about image file types, answered by JPL

Photo: Two of the first images transmitted back by Curiosity, as seen on monitors at JPL 20 minutes after the rover landed on Mars. (Xeni Jardin)


NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory was a magical place to be last night, as engineers, flight specialists, NASA administrators, space celebrities, and scientists from many fields gathered to witness the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover. Those seven minutes of terror ended in a picture-perfect landing: an amazing machine went through a crazy Rube Goldbergian descent sequence, and plopped down about two meters away from its planned destination on the Red Planet's surface.

We witnessed history. It seemed impossible. It was awesome.

I sat in on the post-landing press conference, and live-tweeted the evening at @boingboing. During the press conference, after the high-fives and screams of joy subsided, I asked MSL engineer Adam Steltzner a question about those first two all-important thumbnail images Curiosity sent back—critical because the data they contained would tell NASA if the rover had touched down in a safe spot.

[Video of that Q&A moment here.]

Given the great distance and technical challenges involved in transmitting timely data back from Mars, what file type and image compression algorithm(s) did they use for those first "rush" thumbnails? There's a 14 minute delay involved for any signals from Mars to Earth.

A dorky question, perhaps, but I was curious, and figured nobody else would ask. Things like, "Hey how do you guys feel right now," and "What will Curiosity do next," I knew others would tackle.

Mr. Steltzner didn't have details handy about the image file types used, and he referred me to Mars mission image specialist Justin Maki. Today I checked in with Mr. Maki and his JPL colleagues whose work focuses on data compression and interplanetary data transmission. Here's what I learned.

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Totally Not Photoshopped photos from Mars (a tumblog of greatness)

More like this: "TOTALLY NOT 'SHOPPED PICS FROM MARS"

(Thanks, Sean Bonner!)

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Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity headed for Mars landing. Are you ready?

NASA JPL's nuclear-powered Curiosity rover will try to land at the foot of a 3-mile-high mountain on Mars this Sunday night (technically, early Monday morning) to learn more about the possible building blocks of life there.

The rover is about the size of a car. The whole project costs about $2.5 billion. As you can see from JPL's now-viral "Seven Minutes of Terror" video, the landing process is something of a Rube Goldberg scheme. It'll be amazing if this works. It'll really suck for JPL, and the immediate future of space exploration funding, if it doesn't.

Here's how to follow the Mars rover's journey.

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