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.
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?