22 February 2009

2009 QWIP-Mojave Mission a Success!

Image: 2009 QWIP-Mojave Expedition Team. From Left to Right, Tim Titus, Dan Lowen, Peter Shu, Murzy Jhabvala and Jut Wynne. Not featured in photo, Doug Billings and Glen Cushing.

This mission was a success! While we did not meet all of our mission critical objectives, no one was injured and everyone went back to their respective homes unscathed. The work that we do can be hazardous, and in some cases, rather dangerous. I am always a stickler for safety, and I have always pushed for my team’s to place safety above everything else. My motto has been for many, many years, “Live to play another day.” So, we did just that.

Image: Murzy hard at work...on cross-word puzzles. When everything is going well, we do have a little bit of down time. So, Murzy is taking advantage of the opportunity to use his brain in a different way.

We arrived on site around 1000hr this morning. The decision was made last night that it would not be necessary to arrive earlier. The external reservoir for the generator was working without issue when we left on Saturday. So, we took the first part of the morning packing up and checking out of the hotel.

We had planned to be in the Mojave through 24 February. Unfortunately, Murzy had some problems back at the lab and caught a redeye back to Goddard. So, we shut down shop at noon today.

Image: Our second collect site for Drop Cave. This view point represents a view of the skylight entrance and adjacent tunnel looking towards the East. Credit: Tim Titus.

Ideally, we had wanted to let the camera operate until 1300hr. This would have given us the entire diurnal cycle. However, it started to rain, and the decision was made to shut down. The QWIP camera we were using represents millions of dollars in R&D. Currently, it is a workhorse, and the most sensitive instrument in Goddard’s fleet of QWIP cameras. Needless to say, Murzy didn’t want his camera getting wet.

Image: Dan and I posing for a photo. We're loaded down with gear as we make the trek across the Aa Aa flow back to the vehicles. Credit: Tim Titus.

Fortunately, Dan was able to work with us again today. Glen had left on Saturday and we really needed another strong back to help us move all the equipment off the flow. Dan jumped right in and was eager to help us.

Unfortunately, not all of our mission critical objectives were met. We still need to acquire imagery from Bumble Bee Cave, A non-cave anomaly, and from atop a large cinder cone. This latter set of imagery will enable us to make comparisons to the imagery collected in April 2008. We have published these results in an abstract for the 40th Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston. The abstract is entitled “Distinguishing Caves from Non-cave Anomalies: Lessons for the Moon and Mars”. Essentially, we will be parroting this collect. We have decided we will wrap up the ground-based thermography work next year when we return to upload data and service the instruments next year.

Image: Murzy and Peter trekking across the lava flow. Our second collect was largely a success. Credit: Tim Titus.

Our accomplishments are as follows: (1) We now imagery captured over two diurnal cycles (imagery captured every 10 minutes) from two different aspects of one cave (Drop Cave); (2) All caves and non-cave features are now mapped and volumetric data has been collected (we finished the last cave on Saturday!); and, (3) while in the field, Tim developed a software program to convert the images to video (144 images over 24hr period), run PCA (which enables us to view Eigenvectors and Eigen “images”), and the ability to graphical compare (DN-value vs. time) of a pixel within a cave entrance to a pixel on the surface.

Additional lessons learned include the following. We believe our generator has to work harder when it is cold. We discovered this when we were looking at our late evening imagery. There was a considerable amount of noise along the peripheries of these images. We believe the power surging at night may have introduced this noise into the images. We also learned that it is entirely possible that the pressure caused by the reservoir tank placed on top of the generator may have alleviated this. However, it is also possible that because it was overcast last night, it was warmer. As a result, the generator did not have to work as hard. We still don’t know what caused the noise in the images. Perhaps we’ll figure this out next year…

Thermal Image Panel: Captured yesterday ~1600hr. From left to right, this is an image of me, Dan and Doug right after we had ascended the skylight. Doug is facing the skylight, the large feature at bottom right is a shallow tunnel that connects with the skylight. The main image is colorizaed from the QWIP thermal image. The left inset is the thermal IR image, and the right inset is with the background subtracted out. Credit: NASA-Goddard and Tim Titus.

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