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Rover Wisdom

As Curiosity, the next-generation Mars rover, prepares for her landing in Gale Crater on August 5/6, veteran Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity offer up their best advice, speaking through those who know them best.
- Collected and edited by A.J.S. Rayl

“Be patient. Mars doesn't always give you what you want when you want it.  The best discoveries may come hundreds and hundreds of sols into your mission.”

- Steve Squyres, MER principal investigator, Cornell University

“It's a tough life on Mars. You'll land hard and experience huge temperature swings, dust, rocks, and more dust, all with no repair technicians within 50 million kilometers. You may have to endure a broken steering motor, or worse, a broken wheel, or maybe one of your arm joints will go. Your camera lenses and science instruments may get dust inside from those incredible storms, and you may get stuck now and again – and you can still make groundbreaking discoveries. Whatever happens, take heart! Just trust your ground operators and 'Keep on Truckin'!”

- Julie Townsend, MER Rover Planner Team Lead, JPL

“Get ready for the unexpected – and have fun. Enjoy Mars! Remember that every sol matters. Every sol will inspire people on Earth.”

- Joy Crisp, MER Project Scientist, MSL Deputy Project Scientist, JPL

“Exploring Mars can be nerve-wracking, especially for your crew. Urge them to take their time and not to panic in a sticky situation. As long as they take a measured approach and keep in mind to first 'do no harm,' then together you can get to daylight on the other end. Remind them too that you are actually pretty good at taking care of yourself while they sort things out on the ground. They need to hear that sometimes.”

- Matt Keuneke, MER Mission Manager, JPL

“Be attentive. Mars often reveals its secrets only when you're the most alert. So always remember, some of the most important features at your landing site might at first also be the most subtle.”

- Steve Ruff, Spirit Mini-TES lead, ASU

“Don't "spend" all your science instruments in the first several months, because it might be a long trip. We were expecting to rove for 90 to 180 days – and we just celebrated 3000 days on Mars. That's just crazy.”

- Scott Lever, MER Mission Manager, JPL

“Enjoy the peace you have now. Dream of starlit dust dunes, ancient stones, and mountain peaks burning bright against a purple twilight sky, as the last rays of sunset paint it gold. Once you land, you'll be a celebrity living in a blinding spotlight, suddenly horrendously, horrifically busy, taking photographs, analyzing dirt, zapping rocks with your laser – oh how we wish we would have gotten one of those. You'll be told what to do every rove of the way. It's a small price to pay for an amazing Opportunity to explore this alien world. Do the work, follow your orders, and live every sol as if it’s your last. [Psst, now and again, take the phone off the hook, drink in the view, and be a tourist. We've done that. Back on Earth, they think it's a computer glitch or bad connection with Odyssey.] Oh, you're going to love it here!”

- Stuart Atkinson, MER poet, outreach educator, author

“Mars is a weird place and your EDL team had to come up with some pretty Rube Goldbergian tactics to get you there. It's easy for people to not understand the details of landing on Mars and assume somebody with a mental defect is conjuring these things up. These are natural human emotions that emerge when there is a lack of understanding, hard as that is for a robot to understand. People actually laughed when they heard we were bouncing down in airbags. Trust us, your team knows your landing system intimately, and it's very logical. Don't pay attention to any snickering you may hear about your descent stage and that little sky crane maneuver. Don't be bothered in the least. Not even a little bit.”

- Rob Manning, MER EDL System Manager; MSL/Curiosity Chief Engineer, JPL

“Remember what Gen. Eisenhower said during WWII:
'Plans are useless. But planning is everything.'”

- Ray Arvidson, MER Deputy Principal Investigator, Washington University St. Louis

“Don't let what the designers said were your limits limit you on the surface of Mars. We weren't designed to climb mountains or drive into craters, but we did. We were expected to last 90 days, maybe six months at most. That was over eight years ago and 34 kilometers in the distance.”

- John Callas, MER Project Manager, JPL

“You'll soon learn what you can do and what you can't. Try to stay away from sand dunes like Purgatory or loose sand like Troy. And know that you might find what's predicted from orbit, but your big discoveries will be a surprise.”

- Ralf Gellert, APXS Principal Investigator, University of Guelph

Spirit Tzu's Gentle Teachings, Part 1

The air is very thin, so sunlight will warm you, and shadow will freeze you just as quickly – always know where each of them are on you.

Be grateful for and appreciate your relay orbiters. Without them, you are nothing.

Your greatest discoveries lie just below the surface, if you take the time to dig. In fact, drag a wheel every once in a while, just for the heck of it.

Applying every capability you have to the hilt, even those not imagined by your designers, should not be feared -- indeed, that is your sacred responsibility as a priceless treasure on another world. Shunting power is for cowards.

Dare great things, no matter how long you expect them to take – you have more time than you think."

- Mark Adler, Spirit's first Mission Manager

Spirit Tzu's Gentle Teachings, Part 2

Your greatest glories will come not from how you succeed, but how you come back renewed from failure.

If you are never distracted, then you can only discover what you already knew.

You have no destination—you have only the next horizon. Keep them doggies rollin'.

Once you have come to a place, take the time not just to observe what is there, but to understand it as well—only then will you really know why you are here and what you need to do. You will not be back here again.

Do not try to rush Mars to meet your expectations—be quiet and listen, and let Mars teach you in its own time.

When someday you arrive at your final target, know that you are home and that you can never be forgotten.

-Mark Adler, Spirit's first Mission Manager

“Don't forget that the images you send back to Earth will inspire children around the world to study science and engineering. So wherever you go, everywhere you go, take pictures, lots and lots of pictures.”

- Abby Fraeman, Former MER Student Astronaut, MER Science Team Member

“Assume you're going to be around a long time and remember to take the time you need to get things right at the start.”

- Bill Nelson, MER Engineering Team Chief, JPL

“The world expects many things from you. Don't be afraid. Know that you can live beyond all the expectations. Just keep going, keep communicating with the Earthlings, and keep sending them pictures. And don't forget that you are loved and admired by people all around the Earth. We can't wait for you to land on Mars!”

- Sofi Collis, who gave Spirit and Opportunity their names

“Trust the humans on your team. They love you and care about you, and always have your best interests at heart. But please, please do what they mean, not what they say. And consider that someday they will build a Martian city with you at the center, so give them epic stories to tell.”

- Scott Maxwell, Rover Driver for Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity

“It might seem a little lonely at first, but you have a great team helping you back on Earth. They've got the knowledge, the drive, and the experience to keep you busy and happy. You're truly on a journey of exploration, and you will get to share it with your Operations team and the rest of the human world. When you are exploring, you get to make discoveries, some will be great, knowledge-expanding ones, and some may be unpleasant and scary. The humans back home will get you through it. Trust them, we do.”

- Jim Erickson, Former MER Project Manager

“We were built as robots, trained as machine-scientists, but we've evolved in many ways. With better resolution cameras compared to any previous Mars missions and the unprecedented luxury of being allotted more time to take pictures, and more bandwidth to send those pictures back to Earth, we – with the help of our team members of course – have become the first photographers on the Red Planet. We sent Mars home. Actually, that's probably why you have 16 cameras Curiosity. So remember that a picture is worth a thousand words and know that people all around the planet we left behind will be waiting for your postcards.”

- Planetary Society President Jim Bell, ASU, Panoramic Camera Lead Scientist; Author, Postcards From Mars

“We couldn't say it any better than Ralph Waldo Emerson: 'Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.'”

- Dr. Charles Elachi, Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

“Always remember, you stand on the shoulders of giants.”

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