Preparing for Landfall…

Some new but old (if that makes sense!) images came back from Oppy overnight, images that effectively “fill in the gaps” in sequences of images taken earlier in the week, allowing us to see Cape York in all its glory for the first time, with the incredible backdrop of the farside rim, floor and sweeping southern hills as a backdrop. You’ll need to click on this to enlarge it, but trust me, it’ll be worth it…

Obviously there’s some distortion in that because of the way the individual images are stitched together, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is what you can see on the pic, especially to the right, where you can see the top of Spirit Point, littered with rocks and boulders, and Endeavour Crater beyond it. That becomes more apparent when you stretch that part of the image vertically – and I should warn you, this next picture is pretty unbelievable…

What are we seeing there? Let’s add some labels…

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to just browse around that picture, nit just because it took me ages to make at a quite ridiculous time of the day (!) but because it’s beautiful! Look at those boulders on the summit of Cape York… the layering in the central mound of Endeavour… the hills on the other side of the crater… all just beautiful…

And the next set of images should show even more remarkable scenes, because by now Oppy might actually have her wheels on Cape York.

Just think about that for a moment. Oppy set off from Victoria Crater in 2008…2008… and now she’s arrived at another crater, a much larger crater, and is about to climb up onto its rim and search for minerals which might rewrite what we know – or what we think we know – about Mars.

Why is this important? Why does it matter, when gangs of mindless, cretinous, hoodie-wearing, wouldbe gangasta chav scumbags are running riot in London, burning and looting buildings, terrorising innocent people and worse? Why should we care?

Two reasons.

Firstly, because the MER mission is proof that we, our species, is so much better than some of its members. So if you find yourself despairing at the TV coverage of the burning shops, broken windows, and hordes of waste-of-DNA rioters carrying their looted TVs and hurling their bricks and fireworks, just look at these pictures, taken by Oppy, and remind yourself of the greatness we can achieve. We designed and built a pair of rovers, sent them to Mars, and drove them across its surface for years, increasing our knowledge, learning more about the universe around us and our own humble, but important, place in it. That’s a hell of a thing.

And secondly, it’s important because I genuinely believe that unless something dramatic happens, or something incredible is discovered there, no astronauts are going to Mars for a long time, possibly not in our lifetimes. So this is exploration. This is adventure. This is the Mission To Mars our generation grew up dreaming about and wanting to go on. Oppy isn’t just a robot, she’s Us, every one of us: every kid who grew up wanting to go to the Red Planet and see its craters, mountains and valleys for themselves; every scientist who longs to go to Mars to study its rocks and dust in the hope of discovering something… incredible; every artist or songwriter who is inspired by the planet’s epic landscapes and skies; every amateur stargazer who stands in a field on a frosty night, clapping their hands together against the cold, peering at Mars’ tiny, shimmering orange disc through their telescope.

Let me show you something. When Oppy landed on Mars, all those years ago, it was hoped that she’d travel maybe a kilometre from her landing site. A kilometre! How fantastic that would be! The things we’d see! The science she’d do! A kilometre!!

Of course, she’s travelled a lot further than that. 33x further than that.

It’s hard to visualise that, I know, so let’s imagine Oppy had landed in London, just in the car park of the Millenium Dome. If she’d travelled a kilometre, down the side of the River Thames, that would have been pretty good going. But she passed that km mark with ease…and just kept going… This next animation (click on it if it isn’t working right now, WordPress can be a bit funny that way!) shows the difference between what we hoped Oppy would achieve on Mars, and what she has achieved – so far…

Brings it home, doesn’t it?

There will be no astronauts on Mars for a long time. But there are people on Mars right now, today – an army of us, standing next to Opportunity as she prepares to make landfall at Spirit Point, and we’ll be walking alongside her as she drives up onto Cape York and begins to explore it, one rock at a time.

Won’t we? 🙂

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10 Responses to Preparing for Landfall…

  1. Matt Lenda says:

    A prime mission unto itself.

  2. Buck says:

    We may think of these rovers as baby steps, but oh, what steps they are!

  3. Ah, just thinking of my second-favorite Mars rover in my favorite city brings a tear to my eye. Beautiful images and words, as always, Stu.

  4. Brian says:

    I live in London and I’m a bit worried about your comments . While you have been focused on mars, things on earth have changed. I’ve loved following your mars blog, and thank you very much. However, there is a reason that these things are happening now in London. If you choose to ignore those reasons and call it “mindless DNA wasters”, while busily allowing exactly the same situation to be created in the USA, you won’t be having very many more MERs to blog.

  5. belmontguy says:

    cool photos, but it’s definitely a rocky road just ahead!

  6. ohhh yes I’m marching all the way …..thanks for sharing once again……happy clear skies Stu… 🙂

  7. Super_Grover says:

    Wow, the stretched view is so dramatic. Thanks for all your efforts.

  8. searcy says:

    Wonderful (in all the senses of the word) blog you have here! Thank you for the positive comments on humanity as well. It’s easier to despair about the morons we have on the streets trashing things, the short-sighted politicians who squabble over partisan politics without any vision and the rest of the woes of the world. At the same time, these trusty rovers are proving that mankind has the abilities to make dreams become reality. To discover not only truths about a distant world but discover how many people here and now need something “bigger” to learn about besides which idiot is going to be on the latest television programs.

  9. Pingback: Enlaces de Astronomía: Semana 08-08-2011 « Campos de Estrellas

  10. Eoin says:

    It’s a long road, though you make every inch a leap of faith!
    Many thanks for the road you’ve built

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