NASA Scientists Control Mars Rover from Their Own Homes

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NASA scientists are controlling the Mars Curiosity rover from the comfort of their own homes. The rover is a robotic vehicle that the space agency sent to Mars to determine if the planet is habitable. Previously, scientists maneuvered the vehicle from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. The scientists coordinated with various researchers worldwide to plan where to drive the rover and how to gather data. Although these scientists originally developed and executed commands to the rover only from JPL, they began to work from home because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Curiosity team anticipated the need to work remotely and started planning how they would operate back in March. Members of the team were given equipment like monitors and headsets. However, the team could not send home all equipment used at JPL, including the specialized 3D goggles that help scientists study images from Mars. As the goggles require powerful computer tools only accessible at JPL, the scientists resorted to using classic red and blue 3D glasses. These glasses are not as comfortable as the goggles, but they are still effective for planning arm movements and drives. The team’s current setup has led them to rely heavily on video conferences and messaging apps. Carrie Bridge, the Curiosity team’s chief of science operations, said that she monitors and checks around 15 chat channels and four separate video conferences to ensure clear communication. Despite the change of scenery, the Curiosity team is still getting its work done. Two days after the switch to remote work, the rover successfully drilled a rock sample on Mars.

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