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It's the People in Charge of the Robots Who Deserve the Real Kudos

Editorial from The Signal

Friday, April 30, 2004

    With war and cop killings dominating so many headlines, we don't want to lose sight of the important "good news" that a select group of Santa Clarita Valley residents has been making this year.
    Monday marked the 90th day of operations for Opportunity, the second of two rovers that have been tooling around the martian surface since January. Its twin, Spirit, crossed the 90-day rubicon April 5.
    They were important milestones. It means both rovers have completed their primary three-month missions. They came through with flying colors.
    "Both rovers have met all goals for numbers of locations examined in detail, distances traveled, and scientific measurements with all instruments," according to a NASA statement.
    More enticingly, both found what they were looking for: evidence that the fourth rock from the sun wasn't always dry and desolate.
    Scientists have been seeking hard evidence that water flowed and pooled on the martian surface hundreds of millions of years ago, because where water flows, life could form.
    The rovers found the signs of liquid water.
    Or rather, the people in charge of the rovers did. After all, the rovers are robots. They only do what they're told.
    And who are these people in charge of the rovers?
    They are people like Richard Cook, the Sand Canyon resident who is responsible for the entire program. Jennifer Trosper, the Canyon Country resident in charge of the Spirit rover. Matt Wallace, the Santa Clarita resident in charge of Opportunity.
    There's a whole host of SCV residents who've worked on the Mars Exploration Rover program at one time or another. Wayne Lee, the Stevenson Ranch resident who guided both rovers to a flawless landing. Glenn Reeves, the software chief engineer who helped resolve the "Spirit anomaly" — the rover's temporary communications glitch in late January. Barry Goldstein, who was deputy flight system manager while the rovers were on their way to the planet. Denise Hollert, entry capsule engineer. Rich Petras, Spirit rover senior engineer. And dozens more.
    Pasadena's great, but a huge number of the people at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory call the Santa Clarita Valley "home." We're proud to call them "neighbors."
    And now that they did so well with their primary three-month mission, NASA has assigned them "extra credit." Financed through September, they're off to explore new vistas, gather more data, make new discoveries and play a role in answering questions that have puzzled mankind since the first humans walked the Earth.
    To the Mars Exploration Rover team, we say congratulations and thank you.


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