Thursday, May 22, 2008

Phoenix is Almost There!

Phoenix is almost to Mars. It will be there in a few days. A "Mars Scout" mission, the people working the project, with the blessing of management at the highest levels in NASA, have turned the measly little "it's okay if we lose this one" mission into a "must succeed at all costs" mission. This means that they've spun up the entire Mars network to support them for their Entry, Descent, and Landing this upcoming Sunday. This includes getting Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (my mission), and the European's Mars Express synchronized in their orbits so that we can all record the paltry 8 or 32 kilobits per second signal that Phoenix will transmit while it enters the Martian atmosphere and comes in for a landing near the north pole of Mars.

Truthfully, honestly, it should be awesome.

We've been busting our tails getting ready for this for months now, and with only a few days to go, I've got some funny emotions waffling inside me. For one, I really just can't wait to get it over with. Getting Phoenix to the ground, one way or the other, will be a relief of the highest order. At the same time, I am nervous, too, and it's not even my mission! So many things can go wrong, and losing this vehicle would be a real shame.

Yesterday, though, I finally figured out what it is I'm mostly feeling. I feel like I did back in college in the days before final exams. It's that feeling that you know something difficult is coming, but you've prepared as best you can for a long time. While some last minute cramming might be helpful, no amount of additional preparation is really going to make much of a difference to what will happen. In college, I was either ready, or I wasn't (and typically didn't do very much last-minute cramming). Now, it's the same way. We're either ready, or we're not.

We're ready. Now we just wait and watch.

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