8 Years on Mars…on Mars…on Mars…

First of all, Happy New Year everyone! Hope you all had a great holiday.

Now back to business… 🙂

Yesterday was an anniversary for all followers and fans of the MER mission. On January 3rd 2004, the first of the pair of rovers, “Spirit”, landed on Mars, bouncing to a halt in the centre of Gusev Crater. That was 8 years ago. No, seriously, it was 8 years. Spirit’s landing – followed by Oppy’s landing not start not too long after – marked the start of what has turned into a remarkable, magical, historic adventure of exploration and discovery. Sadly, of course, Spirit is no longer roving on Mars – the Red Planet killed her by luring her into a dust-filled crater, and she was declared dead last year – but Oppy is still trucking along, having reached the rim of Endeavour Crater after a long, looooong trek south from Victoria Crater. At  the moment Oppy is standing still, actually, taking in the view from the summit of Cape York, but she’ll be on her way again within a few weeks, I’m sure. Pictures of what she’s been seeing recently will follow when I have time to process them.

In the meantime, to mark the 8th anniversary of Spirit’s landing, I’ve collaborated with my great friend “AstroO” from the UMSF forum on another of our ‘poemsters’ (poem/poster), marking the incredible achievement. Remember, when they landed it was hoped that the rovers would last 90 days on Mars, and might even, fingers crossed, drive a kilometre or more across the rocky surface! 90 days… 1km… 8 years later, Oppy has driven dozens of kilometres across Meridiani Planum, and shows no sign of preparing to stop. She might live, and rove, for another two years – or die tomorrow. Whatever happens, whatever the future has in store for her, and the amazing men and women behind her, I think it’s right we take a moment to stop and reflect on what the MER mission has achieved since Spirit landed in 2004, hence the new poemster.

I remember Spirit’s landing very, very clearly. In those days I was still on dial-up, so I had to watch the NASA TV coverage of the landing in a tiny Real Player box that kept freezing and/or shattering into a blizzard of pixels every few minutes, inbetween rebuffering of course… more by good luck than good management I was “on” at the exact moment word came through to the control room that Spirit was safely down on Mars, and I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to admit that I cried with relief and joy as I watched the scientists in that control room launch into the air, and Steve Squyres sink to his knees in utter, utter relief. Don’t forget, Spirit’s succesful landing came just a matter of days after Beagle 2, the British Mars lander, was lost, so there was a lot of emotion flying around the space enthusiast community at that time. Would Mars claim another spacecraft? Would the rover’s airbags or parachute fail, dooming it as Beagle had been doomed? We all waited and waited and waited…

If you were around then, you’ll know what that felt like. If you weren’t, well, you can watch it here…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWk-umZm86U

I still get a lump in my throat and a pain in my chest every time I watch that..!

Fast-forward to 2012… Spirit is dead, standing silent and alone in the shadow of Husband Hill, slowly being covered by orange- and cinnamon-hued dust. On the other side of Mars, Oppy, also dusty, stands silent and alone on the Time-eroded edge of an ancient crater, high above the Meridiani plain, looking out across the great crater to the mountains on the other side, mountains she will never reach but will watch over her until the end of her days, whenever that is.

Here’s two fans’ tribute…

No way you’ll be able to read that, I know, so you can either click on it to enlarge it, or go to AstroO’s own blog  where you can find larger versions to download.

Congratulations to everyone involved in the MER mission. You’ve achieved amazing things. But I suspect the best is yet to come…

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One Response to 8 Years on Mars…on Mars…on Mars…

  1. vanDivX says:

    Thanks for the video link, best moment is when they can see the self taken picture of the landed hardware on the Mars surface which meant visual total success for the flight and landing operations.
    8 years is simply incredible. Nobody could have thought that to be possible. And yet here we are.

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