Throughout each mission, a team of scientists and engineers decides on a daily basis how to collect the most interesting data within the limits of the available power, fuel, and other factors. For example, the Mars Exploration Rover team decides where the rovers will travel, what targets to study, and what analyses to run. They must balance their desire to collect a wealth of data at intriguing sites with concerns for the safety of the terrain, rover durability, and uncertainty about how long the instruments will continue to function.
Data provided by robotic explorers would have little use without the community of scientists who understand the atmosphere, landforms, and interior structure of Mars. Each has specialized skills, such as building instruments to examine a certain part of the spectrum, interpreting measurements for a particular type of landform, or creating mathematical models that describe how Mars has changed over time.
Working together and testing new ideas against our ever-growing body of data, these specialists are developing a more complete picture of present and past conditions on Mars.
The National Air and Space Museum participates in Mars Exploration Rover operations. Dr. John Grant of the Museum's Center for Earth and Planetary Studies is a chair of the mission's Science Operations Working Group. He leads the science team to consensus on rover targets and operations.
Keeping Mars Time
One challenge rover scientists face is dealing with Mars time. A Martian day is 39 minutes longer than an Earth day, and the solar-powered rovers operate only in daylight. So for a rover scientist, a working day starts 39 minutes later each Earth day. After a while, a rover will be waking up when the science team would like to sleep. One way team members kept track of Mars time was by using watches designed for a day 24 hours and 39 minutes long.
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