NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover: A Day in the Life of a T-DOC

NASA’s Perseverance Rover Operating on the Surface of Mars

This illustration depicts NASA’s Perseverance rover operating on the surface of Mars. Credit: NASA

It takes a team to plan Perseverance’s daily activities, including people in many different roles. One of these roles is called the tactical documentarian, or T-DOC. The tactical documentarian takes notes of the decisions made throughout the day as the rover’s plan changes, and shares those notes with the team so that the next day’s planning team knows what happened, and why.

The planning sol (Mars day) begins with a Kickoff Meeting, where we discuss what the previous sol’s plan was and what major decisions we have to make today. We already know a lot of what will be in today’s plan because of week-to-week planning (called campaign planning) of the rover. For example, we already know whether today will involve coring, abrasion, or imaging, but we may need to refine the plan by selecting an abrasion site, or selecting the time of day for taking images. During plan development, which usually lasts about two hours, these changes are made to the plan. If imaging or remote science are in the plan, specific targets are selected and named by members of the instrument teams. The team can also use computer modeling to see where the workspace will be shadowed during different times of day, and may change the time for taking images so that they are fully shadowed, or fully in the sun. The placement of images may be moved slightly if we see something interesting that we want to get in the frame. Sometimes not everything is able to fit into the plan, and lower priority items may be moved to the next day. This part of the planning sol usually moves quickly, so it’s important for the T-DOC to pay close attention and take meticulous notes.

Mars Perseverance Sol 354

Mars Perseverance Sol 354 – Left Mastcam-Z Camera: NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image using its Left Mastcam-Z camera. Mastcam-Z is a pair of cameras located high on the rover’s mast. This image was acquired on February 17, 2022 (Sol 354) at the local mean solar time of 15:00:52. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU

The next important meeting is the Declare Plan Meeting, which happens about two hours into plan development. At this point in the day, we usually have confirmation whether the plan for yesterday executed successfully, so we can make minor changes accordingly. After the Declare Plan meeting, the plan is nearly finalized, but it’s still important to look at resources for the rover such as power to make sure that there is enough left over at the end of the day. We also have to keep an eye on how much data the rover is collecting, and make sure that the most important data for making future decisions (such as imaging of a potential drill site) will be sent back first. If everything is going smoothly, this part of the day is less busy and is a good time for the T-DOC to grab an extra cup of caffeine, a snack, or to clean up the notes from the earlier part of the day.

The final meeting that the T-DOC attends is the Reconciliation Meeting. The plan is locked at this point, and we go over the finalized plan one more time. After reconciliation, there is still work for the rest of the team as they uplink the plan to the rover, but the plan itself is finished! About six hours after the beginning of planning, the T-DOC finalizes and uploads their notes to the team to complete the busy day.

Written by Lydia Kivrak, Student Collaborator at University of Florida

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