On September 25th, 2008, Oppy stood close to the crumbling edge of Victoria Crater, and gazed out to the faraway horizon. There, to the south-east, she could just make out a couple of low, barely-there bumps and humps – the peaks of the highest hills on the rim of a much larger crater, the mighty “Endeavour”, a 25km wide ancient wound in the even more ancient crust of Mars that surely was so, so far away that all ideas of ever reaching it, and seeing those hills close-up, were wildly optimistic at best and foolish and naive at worst…
Almost three and a half years later, after driving across kilometres of unforgiving desert, over, round and through dunes of dust the colour of cinnamon and rust, and past countless meteorites and boulders sculpted into what will one day be hailed as the first martian works of art, Opportunity is standing on the rim of Endeavour, staring out over its vast floor, looking at those very same hills again. (click the image below to enlarge it)
Just take a moment to think about that. When I did, part of me – a big, angry, fists-balled-up-in-fury-and-frustration part of me, I’ll admit – felt frustrated and mad as hell that it’s a robot (albeit a magnificent, incredibly successful one) seeing this majestic vista instead of a person, or a group of people. But then I told myself that I should be grateful, and I am, that we’re here when this incredible journey of scientific exploration is taking place, and that the pictures ohe rover is taking are shared with us so freely and so quickly, too, allowing us all to virtually stand alongside Oppy as she takes in this wonderful, wonderful view.
Every rover enthusiast, MER team member and space-mad journalist knows that there will come a day when Oppy doesn’t phone home as usual, and that we’ll all have to face the fact that the MER adventure is over. But that day isn’t today. Seeing these images, today, at least in our imaginations, we can stand beside Opportunity, raise a gloved hand to shield our eyes from the midday martian Sun, gaze out across Endeavour and marvel at the sight of ancient, crater-pocked mountains jutting up into the pink martian sky.