Earth might be on a pause; however, life goes on nevertheless in the distant skies and rocks. We've retreated back to our caves, yet the fruits of our endeavors, in this case, NASA's Curiosity rover, still continues to roam the far away. And of course, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory team hasn't abandoned its traveler amid the coronavirus pandemic: They've just gone 'textbook NASA'.
The team is continuing to explore the red planet despite not being able to go into their California office, instead, they've transitioned to controlling Curiosity from their home offices after NASA instructed its employees to work from home.
Moreover, they've successfully told Curiosity to drill into the Martian soil in an area called Edinburg by working on ordinary laptops and using simple red/blue 3D glasses.
"Curiosity, Drill A Rock"
After the pandemic started running its course in the USA, NASA started planning for its researchers to be able to work from home at the start of March, and by March 20, the first fully remote mission was executed.
Science operations Team Chief Carrie Bridge says, "It's classic, textbook NASA. We're presented with a problem and we figure out how to make things work. Mars isn’t standing still for us; we’re still exploring.”
In order to execute the operation, NASA scientists sent a series of commands to Curiosity telling the rover to drill a rock sample from a location on Mars named Edinburgh. The sample was taken from sandstone on Mars.
They had to create a new drilling method in 2018 since previously Curiosity wasn't able to tackle a sandstone drilling. This was the first time that method was put into use.
Home office, but make it on Mars
As you'd imagine, they are still dealing with the same challenges such as keeping the cat away from the keyboard, hushing the kids during meetings and sharing space with partners and family. However, their workload is a lot different since they are basically operating on Mars.
According to NASA, the team would normally be in a single room to share screens, images, and data; however, now, they have to use online services and chatrooms.
Roaming Mars through regular laptops
They are using headsets, monitors, and plenty of other equipment that were distributed previously by NASA to remotely control Curiosity, which is 201.31 million kilometers away.
However, one thing NASA couldn't distribute was the googles that required advanced computers.
This is extremely crucial since the 3D goggles enable them to figure out where to drive Curiosity and how far they can extend its robotic arm. Instead, they've switched to simple red-blue 3D glasses that work just as well for planning drives and arm movements.
It just looks a little dorkier.
According to NASA's statement, tasks take an hour or two longer than normal; however, the rest is just the business of advancing humanity, one robotic arm movement at a time.