Thursday, April 1, 2021

Controlling Mars Perseverance from my hamshack

I recently submitted a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request to NASA and the Jet Propulsion Lab for the frequencies used to remotely control the Perseverance craft on Mars.

As most know, the interplanetary vehicle touched down successfully on the Martian surface on February 18.

This was at great cost to the American taxpayer and I demanded access to the frequencies on those grounds.

Furthermore, NASA continues to release photos, video and audio from this mission into the public domain. This establishes a precedent for other aspects of the mission to also be in the public domain.

I was called by NASA soon after submitting my request, asking that I join a few key members for a meeting at their Houston facility to discuss which of the many frequencies I was seeking. This was to be followed by lunch - their treat - at Pappa's BBQ, in nearby Pearland.

I can't say no to slow-roasted beef. NASA knows this and was seeking to use it as a ploy to seduce me away from my stated intention. Unknown to them, I ate at Killens BBQ just prior to the meeting. Their devious plan would fail, although they did not yet know it.

The frequencies I sought were those used to control Perseverance - not those for communications or telemetry. My sole interest is in driving that bad boy around. I've driven cars, motorcycles, submarines and, yes - even golf carts. But never an interplanetary rover.

"I deserve this, dammit!" I shouted, gently.

Once I convinced them that I had no interest in their 2nd-rate BBQ, they knew I wouldn't take no for an answer. Even at the unsavory risk of them thinking me a vegan, I was determined to persevere - just like the craft I wanted to drive.

Their only condition was that I not share the frequencies, especially with ham radio operators.

Then I pulled out the Big Guns and gave them my bona fides: I told them that I was a ham radio operator myself, thankyouverymuch - and that I played trombone in my junior high school band and that I once helped Paul Newman (yes, that Paul Newman) jump start his car at Westchester County (NY) Airport. This got their attention - evidently they'd never met a trombone player.

To further ensure that they saw me as someone not to be trifled with, lest their offer be redacted, I peppered my verbal assault with words like "henceforth", "et non profundus", "carpe possum", "Et tu, Brut?" and other legal-sounding or quasi-Latin gobbledygook. (I have no plans to seize any more possums).

After less time than I'd anticipated, they realized that they'd been bested by an adversary with a tack-sharp legal wit and I left the NASA compound with a thumb drive containing the frequencies, handshaking protocols and classified firmware.

With the latter I could program my Spektrum R/C transmitter, which would modulate my IC-705 with the proper pulse-coded pulse codes, embedded with coded pulses to pulse the proper codes into Perseverance's pulse code-receiving receiver.

Mars is currently 138 million miles/415 million furlongs from Earth. This means that it took my radio commands 12.5 minutes to reach Perseverance. My driving goal, therefore, was finished even before I saw the results 25 minutes later.

Despite that handicap...Mission Accomplished.



New Orlando HOA requires all homes be equipped with a tower

A new subdivision being built just east of Orlando FL, Ionospheric Lakes, has a directive requiring that all homes be equipped with a tower measuring no less than 40 feet. Financial incentives are in place to reward buyers who take the extra initiative of upgrading to a higher-performance system.

Two builders are currently licensed to build homes within the subdivision and both are offering a Rohn 25 as the "standard" with optional upgrades like tilt-over base, telescoping sections and increased height as well as several antenna options, ranging form 2-meter Yagis to tri-band quads with rotor.

Each home also includes a CommRoom with 240 VAC outlets and a weatherproof entry point for cables. All homes in the subdivision include an extensive RF ground system as well.

As developer Gerald Ohm puts it, "Here in Florida, we're in Hurricane Alley. I don't have to tell you what happened in Homestead back in '92 do I? No power, no communications - for weeks. We had to bus hams in to handle communications until the infrastructure came back online. Never again".

Mr. Ohm went on to explain that both he and his wife, Fern, consider towerless homes as unsightly eyesores.

"Towers accentuate a home's natural beauty by adding a metallic feng-shui that serves as the man-made yin to nature's yang", she proclaimed. "Show me a home without a proudly erect tower and I'll show you an impotent piece of property."

A nearby business, Q. R. Emmy's, will cater to new homeowners by selling an extensive line of bandpass filters.




  1. As usual, great April's fool story. Congrats with your call on mars ;-). 73, Bas

    1. Thanks Bas, it will be there until the next Martian dust storm.


  2. This is almost as good as JPL putting Morse code on the treads of one of their rovers... oh wait

    1. Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!


  3. I miss the days of Texas BBQ subterfuge... and the comment 'Junior High Trombone player' was pi├Ęce de r├ęsistance!

    1. And the Paul Newman part was true - it was a blue Volvo.

      73, John