NASA announced today that the Mars rover Curiosity team will be switching back to Earth time. The team has spent the three months since Curiosity landed on Mars operating on Martian time.
Mars has a day (called a "sol" by NASA) that is 40 minutes longer than Earth's. The rover team has been pushing back the beginning of the work day back each week to compensate, resulting in frequent overnight work shifts. The team will now be able to perform "most" of its work from 8 am to 8 pm. NASA credits a compression of daily planning processes for the change.
"People are glad to be going off Mars time," said Richard Cook, project manager for the Mars Science Laboratory Project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "The team has been successful in getting the duration of the daily planning process from more than 16 hours, during the initial weeks after landing, down to 12 hours. We've been getting better at operations."
The change will also result in more "dispersed" operations for the rover team, which consists of around 200 JPL engineers and 400 scientists from all over the the U.S. and Europe. The team will be using "dispersed participation teleconferences" and web connections to communicate.
"The phase that we're completing, working together at one location, has been incredibly valuable for team-building and getting to know each other under the pressure of daily timelines," said Joy Crisp, Mars Science Laboratory deputy project scientist at JPL. "We have reached the point where we can continue working together well without needing to have people living away from their homes."
As for the rover itself, Curiosity is still stationed at the Rocknest site, where it has been sampling the Martian soil for weeks now. Earlier this week the rover dumped out the second soil sample analyzed by its Chemistry and Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument. Curiosity's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument also finished an overnight analysis on a blank sample cup to prepare for its first soil sample.
(Photo courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems)