NASA Curiosity team is driving around Mars while working from home

It’s hard enough in the first place having to drive an astronomically expensive rover around a planet millions of miles away. Doing it from home seems like a pretty big ask — but it turns out NASA’s Curiosity team is up to it.

The space agency posted today about how the team has adapted to the unprecedented situation of having to manage an important, ongoing mission involving hundreds of people, without any of those people meeting in person.

“We’re usually all in one room, sharing screens, images and data,” said team lead Alicia Allbaugh. Now they’re not only in separate rooms, but on different schedules and computing setups. “I probably monitor about 15 chat channels at all times. You’re juggling more than you normally would.”

Naturally there are video calls, too — sometimes several at once. Processes previously accomplished on high-performance workstations are now being done on laptops and web services. But while the added complexity makes planning less efficient, the results are still rolling in.

In mid-March, the Jet Propulsion Lab offices in Pasadena, Calif., had already been totally emptied of staff and work was suspended elsewhere. But Curiosity was still trucking. It drove up to a rock, drilled a sample and sent confirmation back to the team — just as it would if they were all working as normal. And the work continues.

“Mars isn’t standing still for us; we’re still exploring,” said Allbaugh.

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