I’ve seen the team through safe modes, loss of one of their CCDs, two solar conjunctions, imaging MSL on the parachute, figuring out creative ways to deal with constraints that MRO’s job relaying science data from Curiosity places on HiRISE’s imaging capabilities, imaging comets, and lots and lots of glorious images of Mars.
Along the way, I’ve made a lot of friends, both with the MRO operations team at JPL and the HiRISE team. The HiRISE operations team is based in Tucson, at the University of Arizona. In honor of their camera, they put “Hi” in front of as many mailing lists and processes or scripts as they can (HiCCUP, HiTList, HiReport, HiOps, HiPPHOP, HiCat, HiDog, HiJack, … ). I have spent most of my time interacting with the HiRISE Targeting Specialists, or HiTS, the folks who do the day-to-day commanding of the individual images that HiRISE acquires. I send them notes from the daily gamut of meetings I attend on their behalf, answer questions from them about what’s going on at JPL, and alert them to “shenanigans” (my preferred term for unusual events) in upcoming planning cycles.
The HiRISE science team gets together twice a year, and once a year they go on field trips through areas that include geological features that are analogs to places on Mars. In the course of attending these, I’ve travelled through areas once covered by giant volcanic flows and then cut by giant floods, pushed dry ice down sand dunes, and spent my 35th birthday standing barefoot on a beach made of preserved brine shrimp poo.
I’ve done two NASA press conferences for the HiRISE team.
I’ve helped the team as they figured out how to take pictures of comets, starting with last year’s ISON images, which at the time seemed mind-meltingly complicated, as we tried to understand how to take a camera designed to run hot and take pictures of a warm object that fills the entire field of view, and flip it over to take pictures of a tiny, faint object in a cold sky. I’ve been told that interpretive dancing was involved at HiROC (the HiRISE Operations Center) to figure out what was pointing where and where the sun was. As complicated as that was, it seems so straightforward now that we’ve done the Siding Spring campaign!
There’s a lot of things out there now about the Comet Siding Spring campaign, including a video about how MRO and the other Mars orbiting fleet hid behind the planet during peak flux, and a NASAsocial about our plans, which can be watched here (I’m briefly in it about 55 min in). But let me tell you, none of that indicates the level of sweat and tears and sheer determination behind the scenes. From the flight engineering team at Lockheed Martin, who figured out how to make the spacecraft do multiple flips every four hours starting 60 hours before closest approach and dealt with ever-shifting instrument desires, to the HiRISE and CRISM teams who figured out how to get their instruments to work in a way wholly incompatible with their design, to the team at JPL who combined our earliest observations with the ground-based comet observations to give us last-minute updates to the predictions of where the comet would be at closest approach (and saved the closest approach images), to the project management who made sure that everyone was dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s – how much did the comet move through the sky between the start of a HiRISE scan and the end of it? Was the spacecraft tracking the comet or pointing at a fixed spot? Were we going to fill up the data storage and start overwriting data before we could downlink it? These images represent a huge amount of work, and I think they are spectacular. More results should be coming from the team in the coming weeks and months.
Today is my final day as the HiRISE investigation scientist.
I’m now full-time as the Science Systems Engineer for the Mars 2020 Rover. It’s my first mission in development, and it’s my first time having this level of responsibility. I’m looking forward to putting the things I have learned as a member of the operations teams for a diverse set of spacecraft to use as we figure out how we’re going to operate our new martian beast. It’s an amazing growth experience for me, and will put my skill set to good use (and stretch me to learn a whole new set of skills). But I’m sad to be leaving the team of the most awesome camera in the entire solar system, and I wish them every success.