Broadcast 3958 Doug Ellison

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Guest:  Doug Ellison;  Topics:  The documentary film "Good Night Oppy", rovers Spirit and Opportunity, the JPL rover operational team, making the film and more.

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We welcomed Doug Ellison of JPL to the program to discuss the documentary film now showing on Amazon Prime, "Good Night Oppy" (www.imdb.com/title/tt14179942).  Our 80 minute discussion went back and forth discussing Spirit and Opportunity on Mars and the JPL team behind the rovers and operating them.  Having seen the film before the interview, I talked with Doug from that advantage point.  Early on Doug said it was "a unique story of people told through the eyes of the rovers."

We talked about the CGI by Industrial Light and Magic because the scenes for the rovers working on Mars were absolutely believable.  Doug helped ILM with the CGI effort to get these pictures of the rovers doing their job on the planet right and boy, it could have fooled me. It was if an astronaut was next to the rover taking video and still shots of the rover working on Mars.

The human story of the JPL rover team was just as amazing as the rover stories.  Doug had much to say about that, how what they said in the film was not scripted, they just spoke their passion into the microphone.  The stories in the film about the Mars wakeup songs were great but don't miss what Doug added to those stories during our interview.  Especially when using Abba's SOS for a last wakeup try. 

Doug also talked about the students in the film and the fact that a few of them went on to work at JPL after completing school and ended up on the rover team.  Don't miss the timeline story of the one student present at the launch and then a PhD on the rover team.  You will know when you hear it.  Doug explained the Martian time to us and the use of Sols in the film.  He was asked many question about dust mitigation for the rovers since eventually dust was the kiss of death.  He talked about it for Spirit and Opportunity but then told us about innovations for new rovers to protect and extend rover life given the dust problems.  Don't miss this discussion. 

Later in the program Sherry in Seattle asked our guest if they had a Made in the USA tag on them for future explorers to find.  He said no but they did have logos, especially a sundial like logo for information about the rover maker.  Don't miss what Doug said in response to Sherry's question.  Bill sent in a note from Houston about the terrestrial analogs used for real time rover problem solving. Doug pointed out the slopes as an issue and getting stuck which did happen.  Doug mentioned the KIM SIM tech for the rovers.  Listen to find out about it. 

Often throughout the program, our guest applied lessons learned with all the rovers.  He had much to say about both Curiosity and Perseverance in comparison to Spirit and Opportunity.  You will also note that much was said about how each rover lasted much longer than the 90 Sol expectation. Opportunity was alive and well for 15 years before it succumbed to the global dust storm on Mars.

Near the end Dr. Sherry Bell of Las Vegas called having seen the film.  She addressed the scene in the movie where Opportunity used its own safeguard programming to stop just before it went too far and would be destroyed if it went further.  Doug talked about the autonomous decision making code the robots had to make sure they don't have a damaging accident.  Don't miss how this safety code truly was a life saver.  Sherry also brought ups the rover selfies which was a fun discussion.  Listen to how they made them possible.

Before signing off I mentioned having watched it on my iPhone and then jumping back to real time as soon as I restored my phone to normal operations.  I mentioned the Dickens quote, "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."  I mentioned that was the sense I had coming back to the present day reality given the crime and adverse things going on today and that were popping up on my phone as alerts. Doug had much to say about this.  His comments were excellent and now serve as our closing for this program.  Don't miss them.

Please post your questions/comments on our blog for this program. Doug Ellison can be reached through me or his JPL website page.

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Doug discusses the new film "Good Night Oppy"

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06 Dec 2022 Doug Ellison
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