On September 11th 2001 I was up a mountain in Scotland, just outside Fort William, holidaying in the Highlands. I’d taken a cable car to the top, on a misty, rather damp day, but that didn’t matter; despite the less-than-perfect weather I could still see a stunning panorama – more mountains, lochs and beautiful Scottish scenery all around me. Up there it was quite martian – lots of rocks all around, large and small, and I had a great time just wandering around. As I sat in the coffee shop at the top, waiting for the cable car back down to the ground to arrive, I had no idea what was happening beneath the mist, in the real world. On the bus back to Fort William I got a text message from my mum, asking if I’d heard about “the bomb in new York”. At that time there was a lot of confusion about what had actually happened, I guess. I tried to text back that no, I hadn’t, but mobile phone coverage up there was so poor I couldn’t, so I arrived back at Fort William still blissfully unaware of what had happened. And I had no idea what was unfolding in New York until I approached a shop that sold electrical goods. A large crowd was gathered in front of the shop, gazing into the window in silence. As I walked towards them I could see some were holding their hands to their faces, others were hugging their partners, others sobbing. I heard American voices breaking with emotion, and then, looking over shoulders, I saw what was happening on the TV screens in the window. But with no sound I wasn’t sure what was going on, though it was obvious something terrible had happened. That must, I thought, have been the bomb my mother had mentioned. I remained unaware of the truth of the situation until I got back to my bed and breakfast, walked into the sitting room, and found my fellow guests and the B&B owners sitting in front of the TV, pale with shock…

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in America. There will be ceremonies all across the US and across the world, and tributes laid at memorials and in churches and cemeteries.

And many millions of miles away from us, with just the sentinel-still rocks and the softly whispering winds of Mars to witness it, another tribute will be paid to the dead of 9-11.

As they were being built, both Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, were fitted with small pieces of metal from the wreckage of the Twin Towers, shaped into rectangular plate covers for cabling. Marked with small “Stars and Stripes” decals, they were then placed on the instrument packages of the robot arms, and sent to Mars on the rovers as tributes to the people who perished on that ghastly day. You can read NASA’s recent press release about this here:

Today, Oppy is manouvering her robot arm over “Chester Lake”, the roughly heart-shaped plate of light bedrock she’s rolled up close to just to the east of Odyssey Crater on Cape York. Recent images taken by the rover’s forward facing hazard cameras offer a glimpse of the 9-11 tributes…

The best views I’ve found of the tribute on Oppy were taken on Sol 29 (day 29) of her mission, when she was still inside Eagle Crater. I’ve taken the raw images and turned them into a single colour image, which I’m putting here today as my own tribute.


So, as we remember the events of 9-11 2001 today, consider this. The fallen are not just being honoured in America, not just on Earth, but across the solar system. And the monsters who carried out those attacks then, and who are undoubtedly planning more attacks right now, will never, ever be able to understand the significance of that. They’ll never understand that while their lives are about death, destruction and hate, the lives of others – the vast, overwhelming majority of others – are about celebrating life, creating things and rejoicing in the joy of knowledge.

So, today, as you remember the events of 9-11, as you recall – because you won’t be able to stop yourself – where you where when it happened, or when you heard about it, just cast a glance at the sky and, mentally, stand beside Oppy as she stands on Cape York. The Sun will be shining on her from the tangerine-hued sky, glinting off her, off a small, rectangular piece of metal close to her RAT. That plate might be dust-covered by now, the Stars and Stripes design on it dulled and hard to see, but it’s there, and will be there for thousands of years.

And as long as a Mars Exploration Rover stands on Mars, in a museum or out on the surface of Mars where it eventually ended its mission, the victims of 9-11 will be remembered, their lives celebrated, their sacrifices honoured.

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9 Responses to Remembering

  1. Alonso says:

    I agree with you. An i have, i MUST add the victims of George W. Bush, in Irak.
    They are more than 100, 000, dead . There are injured children, orphans, etc. right now.
    People who never will hear about mars exploration, they can´t. They must survive only. So, because they are victims and they suffered the use of weapons (US made weapons), so they deserve sharing credit in every aspect of US economic topic and space exploration in particular.
    I know that you don´t agree with me but to other nations, people that’s really true.

    • Ildiko Ross says:

      “I agree with you”…”I know that you don’t agree with me”

      Well which is it? To use Stu’s remembrance of 9/11 as a platform for a anti-American political rant is low, and frankly I think you are lying with your first statement, based on the rest of your post.

      And you deign to speak for people of “other nations”? I doubt very much they want you to be their spokesperson, Alonso.

      Exploration of Mars will go on despite cowardly, heartless, evil terror attacks like those perpetrated on September 11, 2001, hopefully.

  2. Jason says:

    I really enjoy your efforts here and follow regularly since your updates are better than JPL and NASAs (!). Keep it up and thanks for this nice bit about 9/11. I had forgotten about the WTC aluminum on the rovers. The previous reply by Alonso has a valid point as well.
    – Jason, Chicago USA

  3. Roger says:

    Thanks for remembering, comforting knowing that a litle piece of metal from a significant event is part of a wonderful exploration mission on another planet.

    Mid-west firefighter

  4. Dan Brennan says:

    Isn’t it amazing but still so predictable that whenever there is a solemn moment some small, pathetic person living out a miserable, insignificant, existence desperately craving attention of any kind, pipes up to break the silence and utter something rude, insulting or annoying? Like a dog lifting his leg on a prize rose bush you’ve left your stain on Stu’s touching words Alonso. I hope you feel noticed. Now please run off somewhere else while you lick yourself, and leave the rest of us alone.

  5. David Yates says:

    Brother Stu, I like the tribute. The ”tangerine sky” is old school. Let it go brother, let it go.

  6. Alonso says:

    Yes, mister. Is world-wide known that for many citizens around the world, included many Americans, “cowardly, heartless, evil terror attacks like those perpetrated on September 11, 2001”, cant be justified, neither the “cowardly, heartless, evil terror” war that G. W. Bush perpetrated against the people of Irak. Thats the sense of my message. Not more not less.

    • Ildiko Ross says:

      You mock my use of the words “cowardly, heartless, evil” describing the terror attacks on 9/11, in order to make another political point. So your charade is over: Alonso, you don’t care about the Americans that died on 9/11.

      America was attacked on September 11, 2001 and it fought back. You don’t like how America fought back. The occasion of 9/11 and Stu’s remembrance is not about Iraq or George Bush or what you like and don’t like. The cuff on Opportunity with the decal of the American flag is made of metal recovered from the wanton destruction of the World Trade Center site. It is a remembrance of the deaths and terrible suffering there on that day at the hands of terrorists. The people who made it live and work in New York. But from your mocking tone I know you don’t care about that.

  7. the team at Honeybee Robotics Manhattan made the quiet decision to add their own memorial to the people who perished on that horrendous day, Oppy wears the flag with pride forever.

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