RED ROVER, RED ROVER
JULY 11, 1997
The Sojourner Rover continues to send fuzzy images from Mars that, while not perfect, still shed light onto the look and makeup of the Red Planet's surface.
JIM LEHRER: Jeffrey Kaye of KCET-Los Angeles has the latest from Mars.
JEFFREY KAYE: Like the silent films of old, the first moving images from Mars have been black and white, jerky, and without sound.
JUSTIN MAKI, Pathfinder Engineer: That particular movie was a 20 image movie, and it played about 40 times real speed.
JEFFREY KAYE: The pictures show a robotic, six-wheeled science lab, powered by solar energy and batteries, crawling over the Martian surface, sniffing out the chemical composition of dust and rocks, and leaving behind tracks that mark its journey.
HOWARD EISEN, Rover Engineer: This is our child. I mean, we have spent as many sleepless nights with this as most parents have with their children.
JEFFREY KAYE: As rover designers Howard Eisen and Ken Jewett consider themselves the proud parents of a successful child, we spoke in the so-called Mars Yard at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, where they demonstrated a rover similar to the one on Mars.
HOWARD EISEN: And all along the way it's responsible for its own safety.
JEFFREY KAYE: A sophisticated navigation system allows it to recognize its own limits.
KEN JEWETT, Rover Engineer: This is basically the navigation and the hazard avoidance system. There's two--two cameras that act as a pair so we can get stereo images, and there are five lasers here that lay down a stripe across the terrain.
JEFFREY KAYE: The combination of cameras and lasers gives the rover a three-dimensional perspective.
HOWARD EISEN: If the rover finds an obstacle that it believes it cannot go over, it uses that to decide to avoid. And what it does basically is it simply moves away from the object, and then it looks again, and it keeps looking until it doesn't find the object anymore. And then it heads back towards its original goal.
JEFFREY KAYE: Things don't always go so smoothly. On Wednesday, the rover approached a rock to take a measurement, and one wheel went up on the rock. The rover has remained in that position because a transmission from Earth instructing it to back off was delayed.
To survive on the frigid Martian surface the rover has special lightweight insulation. Without it, the rover could freeze up. Engineers had planned for the rover to perform for one week, but it should have a longer life span because of warmer than expected weather with lows around minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
JEFFREY KAYE: And eventually that's going to do it in.
KEN JEWETT: Yes.
JEFFREY KAYE: After how long?
KEN JEWETT: Well, they're quietly talking about this mission lasting a month.
JEFFREY KAYE: Quietly. You just let the cat out of the bag.
JEFFREY KAYE: No matter how long it survives engineers on Earth will continue plotting its itinerary using 3-D images. They transmit signals from JPL to the lander, which relays them to the rover. With its round high-gain antenna, the lander transmits signals to Earth twice a day. The signals carry computer code containing massive quantities of science and engineering information. William Green is in charge of JPL's image processing lab.
JEFFREY KAYE: The pictures arrive from Mars generally around 11:30, midnight?
WILLIAM GREEN, Image Processing Lab: Yes. It gets later and later each day because of the Mars day.
JEFFREY KAYE: And they come down in what form?
WILLIAM GREEN: They come down as digital data, as a stream of bits basically from the spacecraft.
JEFFREY KAYE: Included in that data stream are the images being broadcast and pointed around the world.
JEFFREY KAYE: When you and the other scientists look at the data, it is in this form?
WILLIAM GREEN: That's right. What we've done here is we've located an image in that stream of bits basically, and we've pulled the imaging data out, and we formatted hear for display. And that's one single image.
JEFFREY KAYE: After the pictures are processed, lab scientists piece together vast mosaics from single snapshots.
JEFFREY KAYE: And so this mosaic then is a composite of those individual pictures?
WILLIAM GREEN: That's right, yes. And you can see we've outlined the individual frames of each image. This is just one filter. If we're doing color, we'll have three sets of this, red, green, and blue.
JEFFREY KAYE: The scientists can actually process as many as 12 different color filters. The colors and their intensities offer clues to the chemical composition of the landscape. The binocular type cameras aboard the lander and rover allow the scientists to generate the three-dimensional images.
JEFFREY KAYE: This looks like a fuzzy mess to me.
WILLIAM GREEN: It does look like a fuzzy mess, but what you need to do is put these on, and what's going on here is we're showing your left eye the left image and we're showing your right eye the right image by using color filtering here. And you should be seeing in full three dimensions at this point. JEFFREY KAYE: It's really remarkable, and I'm sorry we can't show the audience at home what we're seeing, but what we're seeing is cliffs and drop-offs and literally a landscape in full three dimensions. WILLIAM GREEN: And here comes the Image Processing Lab.
JEFFREY KAYE: Today Green and other members of the Imaging Lab triumphantly displayed a giant 3-D panorama, a picture that can't be appreciated without the special glasses. Another imaging tool scientists are using to explore Mars is virtual reality, a technique that gives viewers the impression that they're stepping inside the picture.
CAROL STOKER, NASA: You have an image of the rover, and we can pop up the names of the rocks within the terrain model, and here's Yogi and here's Barnacle Bill.
JEFFREY KAYE: Yesterday's NASA's Carol Stoker showed a different perspective of Pathfinder's neighborhood known as Ares Vallis. The image can be rotated in any direction on a computer screen.
Today, scientists released a color version featuring a virtual reality fly-over. But even as scientists and engineers proudly display their accomplishments, and show off the hardware they say has made the Pathfinder mission a success, the next generation of Martian explorers is being readied. With the confidence of a car salesman demonstrated the latest model, JPL's Richard Volpe brought the newest rover into the Mars Yard. This new improved version is scheduled to go to Mars in 2001.
RICHARD VOLPE, Rover Engineer: This is another new feature, is an arm. This arm has four joints in it, and it's designed to be able to grab rocks and scoop soil.
JEFFREY KAYE: This rover moves faster than the one on Mars. It has a more powerful on-board computer. It can travel further away from the Mother ship and can take better pictures.
RICHARD VOLPE: We are like a mobile lander in a sense. We have our own mast, and we move around, and we get panoramic images from every location.
JEFFREY KAYE: JPL scientists see themselves as modern day pioneers.
KEN JEWETT: You know, you look at the images, and you say, damn, you know, that's my hardware and it's sitting on Mars, and it's doing what it's supposed to do. I mean, there isn't anything better for an engineer than for that to happen.
JEFFREY KAYE: Near the Mars Yard, on a vehicle containing test equipment, there's a "Mars or Bust" bumper sticker. Engineers say they have an updated version. It reads, "My Second Car's on Mars."