Today was such a neat day at work. Everyone at JPL was wearing a smile. Anytime I passed someone who I knew had worked on MER, our eyes would meet, and we would both light up in ear-splitting grins. For a couple hours this morning, as everyone was arriving and swapping stories of Christmas and New Year's vacation, you would hear "So where were you Saturday night?" and "I was so excited that I..."
Some of the scuttlebutt I heard was that the re-entry load was just under 6 g, about what was expected, but that the load on the first bounce from the airbags was about 8-10 g, less than half of the design limits. Of course, engineers always upper bound the load levels and take the appropriate risk factors and safety margins, but that's just another sign that everything is going perfectly. I can't remember which story I read, nor which JPL person they were quoting, but the statement was something to the effect that none of the test scenarios had ever gone as well as this reality is.
I spent most of the day in a Test Readiness Review for the Mars Climate Sounder. Since travel time to Mars is on the order of 6 months, and delivery schedules for spacecraft instruments require completion 8-12 months prior to launch, we're beginning right now to assemble and test MCS for launch in 2005. MCS is going for luck on the third try since it was an instrument on both the Mars Orbiter and Mars Climate Orbiter in similar configurations, and neither of those spacecraft was successful.