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From October 25-29, 1999, the MVACS team conducted its fifth MVACS Operational Readiness Test (MORT). These tests are designed to provide the team scientists an opportunity to control the lander's instruments and acquire data in the same manner they will when the spacecraft lands on Mars. The testbed facility, located in the Mars Science Operations Center (MSOC) at UCLA, is a large "sandbox" containing a mock lander equipped with flight-spare copies of the Robotic Arm (RA), the Robotic Arm Camera (RAC), and the Surface Stereo Imager (SSI).

When the lander is on Mars, the SSI acts as the "eyes" of the lander, providing us with views of the surrounding region. SSI images will be important to other teams, especially the RA team, which will use information from the images to choose the best areas to dig and collect soil samples. To best simulate operating the spacecraft the teams can use nothing but SSI images to view the testbed, which is obscured with large curtains. Two MVACS team members, fondly referred to as "gremlins", spent a day transforming the sandbox into an obstacle course for the instruments.

pre_g_s.jpg post_g_s.jpg
The testbed as it looked prior to the MORT... ...And after "gremlin" modification

Various items, including a flower pot, colored rocks, and two cat toys were placed in and about the sandbox (no member of the SSI, RA, or RAC teams were allowed to see the testbed after its transformation). It was the job of the SSI team to correctly image and attempt to identify these objects. Additionally, the gremlins placed a container of "layered" soil (consisting primarily of gypsum, interlayered with red sand, beach sand, white gravel, and a rock salt "ice" layer at the bottom) in the testbed for the RAC team to test their ability to see layers within a trench and measure their individual thicknesses. Some of the results are shown below:

Click on any image for a larger view...
Panorama of the testbed compiled by the SSI team, with names assigned to prominent features and objects
SSI image and interpretation of the trench
RAC image of the floor and walls of the trench. The black-and-white striped object is the Soil Temperature Probe (STP)

The RAC looking directly at a soil sample acquired in the scoop