Business Insider's What is it like to drive the Perseverance rover remotely? A NASA engineer explains the challenges of piloting the vehicle's journey across Mars. includes the following discussion of the job during times of COVID-19:

For engineers and scientists working on the Mars 2020 mission with its Perseverance rover at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California, one of the key challenges is adjusting to new styles of working. This means that some rover drivers have adopted a hybrid-working model, for example.

Insider spoke to Heather Justice, a NASA engineer from the Perseverance rover team, about the challenges of driving the machine. She also explained how she manages to perform commands and make new scientific discoveries during a pandemic while operating on Mars time.

Justice has worked at NASA since 2011 and works on the Mars 2020 mission as a rover driver. She was the lead driver for the Opportunity rover, which travelled over 45 km and was operational on Mars from 2004 to 2018.

and later

One particular challenge has arisen from the fact that teams cannot huddle around a computer to discuss where the rover is going to drive. Instead, scientists and engineers have to put together all of the sequences that will eventually command the rover each day through teleconferencing systems.

Justice said this is a popular way of communication between the teams, who are all spread out across work stations due to social-distancing restrictions. Simultaneously, remote teafm members who are responsible for the navigation camera, have to coordinate with the rover drivers in laboratories to obtain images they need of the terrain.

But for Justice, there has definitely been a lot of improvement and evolution in the process of driving rovers. Some of that has been a focus on the flight systems side, where they've tried to make Perseverance more capable.

She said: "An example of that would be the autonomous navigation where we've done a lot of improvements on the software so that the rover can drive further on its own. Hopefully in the long term that will make it easier for us to get longer drives in which will let us get to the places that science really wants us to go to."

Question: Are the Perseverance rover's "drivers" on Earth working on Martian sols or Earth days right now? With all the improvements of autonomy by Curiosity over the last decade plus whatever might be new in Perseverance, is there any need for JPL folks synchronize to the Martian day/night schedule any more?


1 Answer 1


A team of about 350 scientists and engineers are keeping "Mars time" right now !

From Business Insider's article "Now on 'Mars time,' NASA's Perseverance team shifts their work hours 40 minutes later every day" on Feb.20, 2021:

At NASA, the team of scientists and engineers behind the Perseverance surface operations have to work around the robot's schedule. That means around 350 people will be keeping "Mars time" for the next three months- shifting their work days 40 minutes later every day.
"The team is going to get used to getting up later and then working a little bit into the night. That's not bad, to be on a different shift, but the problem with Mars time is that the Mars days are 40 minutes longer than the Earth days," Jennifer Trosper, who has worked on all five of NASA's Mars rovers and serves as deputy project manager for this one, said in a briefing before the landing.

(Emphasis by me)

Update (to Jezero time)

On the JPL Horizons website with table settings 15 and 19 we can see that on March 30, 2021 at 0.00 hours UT the Sunsub longitude is about 3.6⁰ West.
So at that time on Earth, the local Mars time for Jezero crater (77.58⁰ East) was about 5h 24 min. past martian midday.

From the same Business Insider's article:

The team usually starts work during the Martian afternoon, because that's when the rover's data dump reaches Earth. They work for 12 to 14 hours to prepare an upload to send back to the rover. The first shift in this cycle began at around 14:00, Trosper said, then it is shifting 40 minutes later every day. After 37 days - a full "cycle" - the shifts are back where they started.

So with the start of this day (March 30, 2021) at midnight UT the team in California was probably already working for a couple of hours at 4h. p.m. local time on March 29, and ended at 2-4 h. a.m. this morning.

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    $\begingroup$ So every 36 days they work a standard shift like other scientists. Much better than a 8 hour shift after some days or weeks using a conventional shift plan. $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Mar 30, 2021 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Uwe It will be like every day a wintertime shift. At least much better than every day a summertime shift, from my recent experience with just one ! :) $\endgroup$
    – Cornelis
    Mar 30, 2021 at 13:01

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