If all goes well, NASA will know around 10:31 p.m. tonight if their latest rover, the one-ton Curiosity, successfully landed on Mars’ Gale Crater.
An hour later, Jordan Evans will head back to his office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he will try to get three or four hours of sleep on a cot.
But sleeping after an event the space agency has anxiously waited for since it launched the spacecraft holding the rover last November might be difficult. “I’m not so confident I’ll be able to with the excitement of the evening,” he said.
Evans, an operations manager at JPL, will direct the surface team that is set to take over early Monday morning after Curiosity lands. That team will guide the rover’s actions for the next two years, the length of the mission.
Evans will help tackle any issues that emerged overnight when he starts his shift on Monday at 4 a.m., after offering moral support and solving technical issues Sunday night. And he’s not the only one losing sleep over the rover. Dozens of cots are set up at the La Cañada Flintridge campus.
Even scientists who aren’t involved in the landing are camping out at JPL. The space agency is also funding taxi rides and hotel rooms for workers who live far away from the campus, he said.
A team of scientists and engineers will be working on Mars time over the next 90 days — starting work 40 minutes later each day.
“You body is not made to do that,” said Evans.
Those working on Mars time have thick black curtains on their office windows, he added. “You have no sense of whether it’s day or night at Earth.”
Bethany Ehlman, a Caltech professor and participating scientist on the mission, said the trick is to ignore what's happening on Earth. "The way to do it is dive right into it and immerse yourself into it and not worry what the rest of the world will be doing.”
Ehlman is a veteran to JPL's Mars program; As a grad student at Caltech, she worked on the Spirit and Opportunity missions. This term, she is taking time off from her job at the university so she may work on Mars' clock.
So what's her first task on Monday? Going through a checklist of Curiosity parts, analyzing the descent images the rover snapped and making sure all the instruments work.
Ehlman said she is looking forward to piecing together the story of Mars' past.
"Ancient Mars was such a diverse place, you sort of need many rovers to be able to check them all out," she said. "We have so few landings on Mars but every one of them teaches us something.”
-- Tiffany Kelly, Times Community News