I’m trying to make sense of the strong emotions I feel about the Mars rovers.
I don’t remember hearing that Spirit went offline in 2010, and I didn’t realize that Opportunity stopped communicating last June. Appropriately it came to rest in an area called Perseverance Valley.
I do remember watching the coverage when Spirit landed in 2004. Can you imagine what that must have felt like for the team? I loved how an unusual design succeeded after a number of expensive failures in the 90’s. And it helped that my husband, Michael, knew one of the JPL spokespeople, That made it sort of personal.
My favorite part of space stories is when scientists get creative to solve problems (like how socks and duct tape saved the astronauts on Apollo 13). Having the rovers land by bouncing on airbags. How cool is that?
The team solved a number of problems over the years. I wonder how many were anticipated given that the rovers’ missions were only supposed to last for 90 days? I find it fascinating, the idea of experimenting in a giant sandbox in Pasadena to figure out a solution then translating that into code to send 33 million miles away and then wait to see if that worked. Amazingly it takes only 15 minutes or so for the signal to travel that far.
So Opportunity was not a loyal dog. It wasn’t WALL-E or Haley Joel Osment in AI. So why have my eyes been filling with tears every time I think of it? It was a great piece of engineering and teamwork. It gave us an exciting glimpse into another world. It vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity.”
I am anthropomorphizing these machines– thinking in terms like faithful, intrepid, doing more than was asked. Opportunity has been an inspiring symbol. I guess that’s worthy of my tears.