Sojourner: An Insider's View of the Mars Pathfinder Mission

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Berkeley Books, 2003 - Science - 333 pages
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Andrew Mishkin, a senior systems engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a leader of NASA's robotic program, brings us this insider's look at the Mars Pathfinder probe that electrified the world's imagination. One hundred twenty-two million miles away from her controllers, a sophisticated robot smaller than a microwave oven did what had never been done before-explored the rocky, red terrain of Mars. Then, six-wheeled Sojourner beamed spectacular pictures of her one-of-a-kind mission back to Earth. And millions of people were captivated. Now, with the touch of an expert thriller writer, Sojourner operations team leader Andrew Mishkin tells the inside, human story of the Mars Pathfinder mission's feverish efforts to build a self-guided, offroading robot to explore the surface of the Red Planet. With witty, compelling anecdotes, he describes the clash of temperamental geniuses, the invention of a new work ethic, the turf wars, the chewing-gum solutions to high-tech problems, the controlled chaos behind the strangely beautiful creation of an artificial intelligence-and the exhilaration of inaugurating the next great age of space exploration

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One of the main aim of taking up this book was the Priority Inversion problem. In that sense, it was a letdown that there was NOT even a mention of this throughout the book.
But otherwise I see this
book has thrown much light on the development process of space explorations. I can draw a lot of parallel with the development process within semiconductor industry - for eg before the chip tapes out/ the flight of the spacecraft, you have flexibility but after the tapeout/flight of the spacecraft, you have ONLY software updates.
Note that a 80C85 uP was used for this project, which was also surprising.
Story - This book is about the complete development cycle about a] the Mars Pathfinder - the spacecraft and lander, b] Sojourner - the 6 wheeled rover which did the experiments on Mars surface. The focus of the book is more on the latter ie b] The focus is also on the team which made b] possible. The mission is also important as the focus of NASA was "faster, better and cheaper". And against that, with a 25 million USD budget for the rover project got done in period of 4.5 years (approx). (Note the total cost of the mission was 500 million USD (approx))
This project was also a co-ordination between various different departments of JPL (Jet Propulsion Labs), also cross functional involving teams with S/W, H/w, Mechanical, controls, thermal engineering etc.
Some of the problems faced by the team that I can recall
a] Power cable interference with signals
b] D-connector on PCB problem (i myself have faced similar problem during PCB making days)
c] MARS time setting being done as per Earth time (while the author discovered during vacation but S/W team treated it as trivial as changing a setting)
d] Driving rover from earth with camera (with a one way delay of 23 min)
e] Communication problem of modems between rover and lander (due to temperature differences)
f] Reverse currents blowing up FETs (I've also faced a similar problem in UPS days)
a] A Martian day is called a sol
b] A Martian day is more than an Earth day by 39 minutes. This impacts a team which used interacts with the rover - on each Earth day, they need to start interacting with it 39 minutes later
c] Earth night corresponds to a Martian day and vice-versa - this further complicates the life of people interacting with the rover.
d] Space missions have timings associated with them, which is related to the relative orbital motion of that planet wrt Earth. Thus if a date is missed, then the next date depends as when the orbits get closer.
e] Earth-Mars communication takes 23 min approx at the speed of light
f] Extreme temperatures on Mars - difference of 80 deg in a day - equivalent to difference in desert and polar places.
g] A requirement is not a requirement until someone pays for it.


Doing Whats Never Been Done
Almost As Good As a Bogie

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