...what goes on at the JPL Mars Yard? (with Hallie Abarca)

Ever Wonder? / March 2, 2022

...what goes on at the JPL Mars Yard? (with Hallie Abarca)

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Hallie Abarca next to R2D2
Image attribution
Courtesy of Hallie Abarca
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jpl-mars-yard

It’s been a year since NASA JPL’s Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter landed on Mars on February 18, 2021, bringing us spectacular new images and videos of The Red Planet. And in honor of this milestone for Percy and Ginny, we’re bringing you an unaired clip from our past interview with Hallie Abarca, a software engineer and former rover driver at JPL. She takes us behind the scenes of a special place at JPL called the “Mars Yard,” an outdoor field with red dirt made to look just like a mock Martian landscape

Ever wonder what goes on at the JPL Mars Yard? 

Hallie tells us how they use the yard to test Mars rovers right here in California. 

Learn more about the Mars Yard in this video tour and this virtual tour from JPL. 

Have a question you've been wondering about? Send an email or voice recording to the podcast team to tell us what you'd like to hear in future episodes. 

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts. To see a full list of episodes, visit our show’s webpage

Transcript

Perry Roth-Johnson (00:06):

Hello! This is Ever Wonder? from the California Science Center. I'm Perry Roth-Johnson.

Perry Roth-Johnson (00:13):

It's been a year since NASA JPL's Perseverance Rover and Ingenuity helicopter landed on Mars on February 18th, 2021, bringing us spectacular new images and videos of The Red Planet. And in honor of this milestone for Percy and Ginny, we're bringing you an unaired clip from our past interview with Hallie Abarca, a software engineer and former rover driver at JPL. She takes us behind the scenes of a special place at JPL called the "Mars Yard," an outdoor field with red dirt made to look just like a mock Martian landscape. Ever wonder what goes on at the JPL Mars Yard? Hallie tells us how they use the yard to test Mars rovers right here in California. Take a listen.

Devin Stewart (01:01):

You mentioned the Mars yard and as a matter of fact, Perry and I, and a couple other members of our team, um, have had the opportunity to visit the Mars yard. And it is so much fun because you guys replicated, you know, a little patch of Mars at JPL. So do you have you, I guess, gone out there with your team, do you guys work with the, you know, the Rover that you have on the Mars yard to replicate what you see in the imagery?

Hallie Abarca (01:25):

Yeah. So at JPL, it's super cool. We have multiple Mars yards. We have our indoor Mars yard, um, in one of our buildings called ISIL. And in that indoor building is where we add Opportunity Rover Mars 2020 with the robotic arm, and then Insight. And then up in the Mars yard, we have Curiosity Rover. Um, it's like a good problem to have is that you have too many active missions that all need a space, um, to do their testing. Um, so in my early days when I was working with Curiosity, I'd helped them, um, up the hill, um, you know, doing some of their testing, but a lot of my testing has been in this indoor Mars yard. And it's super cool cause I've worked on in, in one building, um, kind of actually at the same time I was kind of working on, um, Insight and Opportunity. So you're sitting out there doing testing for Opportunity Rover, um, you know, especially as the rover ages, you have all these new opportunities to, um, solve new and exciting challenges like your wheels no longer turning or things, you know, fun, things like that. Um, so we'd have to figure out how to new ways, how to drive. So the rovers have, um, six wheels. So we'd actually because we couldn't turn them anymore. And one of them kind of got stuck. We actually did tank turns. Yeah. So we turned like a tank. And so we had to do all this testing and JPL, like what kind of terrain would you wanna do that on? We took it out onto, you know, the blacktop where some, you know, parked cars were brought it outside, turned it, um, there's that like sound of, of rover wheels. I'm really glad. Like we didn't have a microphone on Mars for Opportunity. We will have one on 2020. Um, but Ooh, fun. The sound of, you know, metal wheels and doing a tank turn on rock is really something that you will never forget. Um, this

Devin Stewart (03:12):

Is just metal, just grinding

Hallie Abarca (03:13):

Just metal grinding on asphalt. Yeah. But like 10 feet away, you have this team, uh, doing robotic arm testing cause we were getting ready to land Insight and then 10 feet from there. There's another team who's working on the robotic arm and getting ready to do sampling in their initial testing. And it was so cool to see all of these simultaneous missions in one building with, you know, people looking above waving to us as this, you know, one of the tourists stops and just seeing all the things that are happening on Mars and how lively it is. It's one of the coolest things you go up to the Mars yard and there's another Rover getting ready driving around. And there's a whole shed of, of shredded tires, which used to be my favorite stop for giving tours is we have a whole shed where Curiosity, if you guys remember the wheels kind of like Coke cans would kind of rip apart. Yeah. Driving on these sharp rocks.

Devin Stewart (04:06):

They had holes from the rocks, right?

Hallie Abarca (04:09):

So they had to redesign them for Mars 2020. So they set up this track in the Mars yard and were, it was one of the, I mean, I can't, that must have been one of the coolest jobs. I don't know who was working on that. I'm I'm work with them now, but they literally just drove wheels in like a circle over these different types of terrains. And just to see like do life expectancy testing on different types of trains with different rover wheel designs. And so there is this..

Devin Stewart (04:33):

That sounds like a really fun job.

Hallie Abarca (04:35):

Uh, yes. And so there's literally wheels like shredded in half. So you could like hold two halves of two Curiosity wheels um, definitely a digression, but it was one of my favorite things cause it really shows at JPL, we love like solving problems. Like you give us a problem and we're like, oh this is gonna be exciting. And we're gonna, you know, persevere. Well, okay. Persevere is I find something that I'm gonna be saying a lot for the next year. Um, you know, we always push and persevere and figure out how to, way to make it better.

Perry Roth-Johnson (05:00):

Now I have this image in my head of like a Mars version of a monster truck rally where you're just like going around and seeing if the tires pop as you roll over the car.

Hallie Abarca (05:10):

Yeah. The difference is you have to remember how slow we drive everything on Mars. So it's like a slow motion monster truck rally,

Devin Stewart (05:17):

Slow crawl.

Perry Roth-Johnson (05:20):

That's our show, and thanks for listening. Until next time, keep wondering. Ever Wonder? from the California Science Center is produced by me, Perry Roth-Johnson, along with Devin Stewart and Jennifer Aguirre. Liz Roth-Johnson is our editor. Theme music provided by Michael Nickolas and Pond5. We'll drop new episodes every other Wednesday. If you're a fan of the show, be sure to subscribe and leave us a rating or review on Apple Podcasts. It really helps other people discover our show. Have a question you've been wondering about? Send an email or voice recording to everwonder@californiasciencecenter.org to tell us what you'd like to hear in future episodes.