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Working on Mars time

OK -- I've become a Mars rover groupie.

One of the keynote speakers at FCW Events' CIO Summit last month was Steven Squyres, a professor at Cornell University and the person who is overseeing the missions of those amazing little Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. This is an amazing guy who got to lead an amazing project.

And these are two amazing 'bots. I am ashamed to say that I didn't know the Spirit and Opportunity were originally slated for 90-day missions, but they have lasted more than 850 days.

We always hear of government programs that are over schedule and over budget. The Mars rover project essentially had to meet its schedule – it had to launch the two rovers within a certain window on time or else miss the opportunity to make it to Mars. But they did not meet their budget. Squyres told about two tough meetings with NASA officials where they requested more money for the project.

One of the most interesting parts of managing the rover project was that the team had to work on Mars time. Each morning, the rovers "wake-up" and seek instructions from Earth about what they are supposed to do. So the team had to work on Mars time. Unfortunately, a Mars "day" – called a "sol" – is about 39 minutes longer than an Earth day. To be exact, 24 hours, 39 minutes, and 35.2 seconds. So the rover team worked on a Mars day. As time went on, they were eventually working overnights – making it difficult on their families, Squyres said. Even worse, they were working in two different Mars time zones because the two rovers were on different sides of the planet.

Squyres even has a time piece that measures Mars time. We'll run a photo of the watch in the June 5 issue. He said it was a gift and I believe he said it was an old World War II timepiece that was retrofitted to keep Mars time. It was quite stunning. Meanwhile, here is a story from NASA's site about Mars timepieces.

Posted by Christopher Dorobek on Jun 01, 2006 at 12:15 PM


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