Tomorrow, January 24th, is the anniversary of the landing of the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars. This little scientific probe was designed to wander around the Red Planet taking pictures and analyzing samples for three months. That was nine years ago. Opportunity is still going strong as it rolls into year 10, although it is showing its age and travels in reverse much of the time due to a stuck wheel. But none of us are what we were, and we all would be damn lucky to exceed our design parameters by so much.
A shout out, too, to Opportunity’s twin, the rover Spirit, which stopped communicating with base in 2010. Even though the more sophisticated rover Curiosity has stolen their thunder over the last year or so, Spirit and Opportunity were the originals, and they are still true classics.
If you want to know more, watch the Nova documentary “Mars, Dead or Alive”, which follows the development of the twins and their successful landings on Mars. It is free for the streaming in several places on the ‘net, but be warned. This is a real three handkerchief show– as the scientists load the rovers into the spacecraft, they realize they will never see their beloved little robots again, and, well, things get little emotional. Do not watch this doc with other people in the room if you are sentimental.
The storyteller in me feels confident that human beings will see Spirit and Opportunity again, in person. And after that, in due time, they will be among the great historical treasures of the Martian people.
(I got the heads up about this story from USA Today here. image from universetoday.com)