Seven years ago today, Opportunity landed on Mars. And I was there.
Not actually there, of course. I wasn’t there in the control room at JPL, where dozens of MER engineers, techs and mission scientists were packed in like sardines, shoulders jammed up against each other, straining to hear what was going on, shouting and cheering and bursting into applause every time the succesful completion of a significant event – the main parachute opening, the retro rockets firing, contact with the ground, the end of rolling across the surface – was announced. No. I watched it live, via NASA TV on the internet. So I wasn’t there in person, I couldn’t smell the sweat I couldn’t see the fear and uncertainty in everyone’s eyes and on everyone’s faces. But I cheered and hollered with everyone there, as backs were slapped, people were bear-hugged and high five after high five was given. And I’m not ashamed to admit that when the first images flashed up on the screen, accompanied by the loudest cheer so far as all the Mars scientists struggled to see over or past the broad shoulders of Al Gore and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, sensing a great photo opportunity, had found a way into the room to join in the celebrations (I bet if the landing had gone badly they’d have left that control room so quickly there’d have been a sonic boom!), I shed tears of relief and joy – relief that, again, everything had worked perfectly, and joy that I was going to be able to see new images of a new region of Mars, maybe for as long as three months..!
Seven years later, Oppy is still there, on Mars, still roving. I really can’t find the words to describe how amazing that is, nor how much I am in awe of everyone involved in the MER mission. If any of them are reading this, thank you.
When Oppy landed on that late January day seven years ago, and opened her eyes, she was greeted by a quite incredible sight. She had been sent to Meridiani Planum to look for rocks bearing signs of the action of or presence of water, and everyone expected her to have to drive for quite some way before she found any. But when she looked up from the landing stage deck – there they were, just a few metres away from her..!
Seven years and many kilometres later, Oppy is studying water-altered rocks again, on the edge of Santa Maria crater, far south of her original landing site. But now, when she lifts here eyes, she sees a rather different horizon…
Here, in just two pictures, taken seven years apart, is the story of Opportunity’s journey. These pictures show what she has done, and what she will do in the future.
Incredible, don’t you think? And how lucky we all are to be witnesses to this fantastic era of history; how privileged we all are to be able to walk alongside Oppy and see these magical places with her.
If you missed the landing, or if you just want to live it all over again, you can see it here…