The COVID-19 pandemic is still going on a rampage in the US as well as the world. It forces many countries to adopt strict policies, and businesses to send employees to work online remotely. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is no exception. All NASA centers have allowed their employees to work from home, except for only a few key departments.

As the nature of their job, the Curiosity rover drivers often have to work with hundreds of scientists from different research institutes around the world. Thanks to that, when a situation occurs on the remote planet, the technical infrastructure available at NASA can be utilized to give an immediate response, instead of having to set up everything from scratch.

Matt Gildner With 3d Glasses
NASA's rover pilot Matt Gildner shared his experience working from home

On March 17, before the NASA employees start working from home, they were given a headset, computer screens and other essential pieces of equipment.  They queue up outside  NASA headquarters, keeping an adequate distance from each other and wearing tight masks, to receive the equipment needed.

Solve the communication problem at work

At NASA, the personnel involved in the Mars Curiosity rover project are divided into two main teams. One is in charge of Uplink (sending data from the Earth to the autonomous vehicles), while the other takes care of Downlink (processing data sent back from autonomous cars to Earth).

Normally, the project employees work together in a large room at NASA headquarters - where they can directly communicate with each other during the operation of Curiosity.

Mars Curiosity Rover Selfie
The Curiosity Rover takes 2 teams to pilot

For a particularly complex project like this, maintaining the rhythm among the departments is paramount. Every employee must work cohesively together to get the job done. At one point, it required the support of 20 people to successfully execute a series of commands to control Curiosity. However, when working from home, communication between group members is much more difficult.

They found a solution to this problem. NASA employees will use headphones, communicate via a series of online meetings, while simultaneously launch chat software to 'simulate the atmosphere at a real office.

"At any given time, I'm probably handling about 15 chat channels. There's more work to do than usual," said Matt Gildner, a member of the Curiosity operation team.

They set up a series of online meetings at the same time. The coordinator uses one headphone to talk privately with the rover pilot team. Then he makes a call to another team using the other headset. “Just like that, I went back and forth with these two online groups for 8 hours a day ", he said.

Use 3D glasses to monitor Mars rover

The Mars Curiosity rover is equipped with a special 3D camera, which captures and sends 3-dimensional images of Mars to Earth. Thanks to this “remote eye”, the operating engineers are able to learn the terrain the vehicle is passing through and pilot Curiosity over any obstacles.

However, to view the 3D images sent by Curiosity, operating engineers must wear high-tech 3D glasses to help them get the most realistic image as if he was standing there on Mars.

3d Glasses
The "outdated" glasses from the 1950s still works

In addition to that, these special glasses also require a supercomputer with powerful configurations. However, for NASA employees, equipping a PC like such at home is nearly impossible.

As a result, NASA devised a “less advanced” solution. They ask the pilot team to use the common 3D red and blue glasses in theaters. Surprisingly, when using "outdated" technology, NASA experts can still operate Curiosity to conduct exploration activities as usual.

Mission accomplished

After a lot of thoughtful preparation, on March 20 - the first working day at home, a series of commands sent from Earth to Curiosity rover was executed. The robot drilled to sample at a location named "Edinburgh" on Mars.

Soon afterward, Curiosity continued to move to another location to search for possible samples of soil. The rover has traveled a 166-meter-long distance since the NASA piloting team had to work from home.

How Does Nasa Engineer Sit At Home Controlling probe
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For NASA experts, piloting the Curiosity rover has a special meaning during the time of the United States lockdown. The discovery of the planet hundreds of millions of kilometers away from Earth makes them forget the sense of captivity at home due to COVID-19.

"One of the best things about controlling Mars rover is that every day we discover places we have never been to before. Besides, we also see pictures that no one on Earth has ever seen before, "said an engineer in the Curiosity pilot team.