The View from the Back of the Room
My name is Tim Kennedy and I work in the Mission Operations Directorate at the NASA Johnson Space Center. During the past ten days, I have been the Flight Director for the K10 flight control team.
While K10 drives in the bright sunshine at Black Point Lava Flow, the flight control team sits in a darkened room that is illuminated by rows of monitors. Known by their call signs - DATA, ROC, DRIVER and SPOC - they are the ones who keep K10 on track to execute the daily missions.
If it seems quiet in the control room, that is a good thing. It means the on-board command sequences for K10 are executing nominally.
Today, after a week of challenging terrain, weather delays and communications problems, the flight control team has finally found its stride. A quick call on the flight loop from DRIVER tells me that a way point has been achieved and that K-10 has started taking a Lidar scan of the surrounding area. ROC reports that all subsystems on the robot are nominal. DATA confirms the receipt of science instrument data on-board.
As I look ahead in the current sequence, I see that the robot is close to completing a traverse. Almost on cue, SPOC comes up on the flight loop and has the next plan available for the flight control team to review. Meanwhile in the desert, K10 quietly moves on to its next objective.
Normally, ops teams train together for months (or years) to prepare for upcoming missions. Our ad-hoc group has been together just short of two weeks. However, these are not first timers. These are the same steady eyes and hands that have navigated remote places like Haughton Crater and Moses Lake. I know we are in good shape if K10 runs into problems.
This field test will conclude in a couple of days, but I have a feeling I will be working with these guys again some day - when we are roving on the lunar surface.