Maybe the mistake wouldn’t affect anything, but it could destroy the multibillion-dollar rover upon landing. With the clock ticking, San Martín and the rest of the team in Pasadena, Calif., had to help NASA figure out a solution: do nothing and risk a crash, or send a special programming command to the spacecraft and hope it doesn’t have any nasty consequences.
In His Own Words
I went to see Pete Theisinger, the project manager, and I explained the error, taking full responsibility. We took it to the board of experts that deals with these things, and they voted for “no change.” I felt relieved that it was over.
But that night, I started thinking. Did we consider all the aspects of this thing? I got cold feet. In this business, you need to be paranoid to be successful. You have to assume that an error could be the tip of an iceberg of a bigger problem. I didn’t sleep.
So, it’s Friday. I go back to Pete, and we agree to have another meeting Saturday morning to make the final decision. We worked that whole night, filling whiteboard after whiteboard with equations. I thought I’d actually be enjoying getting closer to the landing, but I just wanted to make a big hole and bury myself.