The Big Day approaches…

No, “Road to Endeavour” hasn’t fallen into a black hole, we’re still here, there’s just been nothing to write or talk about recently, what with the Odyssey orbiter throwing another diva strop and refusing to talk to Earth, or send back any pics from Opportunity. I understand she’s come out of her latest sulk tho, and we’ll be seeing new images, and driving again, soon. Looking forward to that – the last time we heard from Oppy she was driving towards a small crater blasted out of the eastern side of Cape York. What’s scattered around it? What’s *inside* it? We should know soon…!

Meanwhile, we’re all gearing up for The Big Day aren’t we? I mean, of course, the landing of “Curiosity”, the Mars Science Laboratory rover, on Mars, on August 6th (August 6th **my** time, ok? I know it’s August 5th for all my US readers, but if I’m going to get up at dawn to follow the landing, and eat a hearty peanut breakfast, I’m going to call it August 6th, ok??! 😉 ) which is now just a matter of weeks away.

Obviously this is very exciting, and worrying, and terrifying, for a gazillion different reasons, mechanical, personal and just plain old luck, and I can’t wait to see the first images sent back by Curiosity from inside Gale Crater. Hopefully she’ll land with her camera pointing towards the centre of the crater, so we’ll get an early view of Mt Sharp, the mountain at the crater’s heart, but that might not happen, the camera might be pointing in a totally different direction. That’ll be a bit disappointing, yes, but if MSL reaches the ground in one piece, alive and healthy and ready to get down to work, I really won’t care. And listening to the comments at the big media briefing event held by NASA a few days ago it’s clear that Curiosity will NOT be rushing off any time soon after landing. We’re looking at just a few pictures in the first few days, and then a month- maybe even two – of checking out systems etc before she starts to roll away from her landing site, in search of… wonder..!

…which makes it even more important for those of us with an interest in, and passion for, the exploration of Mars, and of space in general, to make sure people, especially the media, don’t just turn their backs on Opportunity once Curiosity has landed in Gale Crater.

Whatever happens to Curiosity on August 6th, there will be a working rover on Mars that night. Hopefully there will be two, and I’m confident there will be two, but whatever happens to MSL after those much-publicised and YouTubed “7 Minutes of Terror”, Opportunity will still be there, on Mars, standing on the side of Cape York, looking out across Endeavour crater, eight years after landing more than 34km away. That’s an incredible, unbelievable thing. And Opportunity is an incredible, unbelievable success story for NASA, and for science, and it is baffling to me why NASA aren’t saying this too. I know, they have their hands rather full with preparing for Curiosity’s landing, but they already have a working rover on Mars, which, in my humble but always-supportive opinion, they are not promoting anywhere near enough to the public and the media.

This little blog of mine has been going for a few years now (regular readers: thank you! New readers: welcome!), and I’ve had quite a few people asking me if I’m going to start another one to chronicle Curiosity’s adventure. Simple answer: no, I’m not. I’m going to cover it in a smaller way, on a separate page on this blog, where I’ll primarily post images and very brief activity updates, but I’m going to leave the reporting of MSL’s adventure to others, because I haven’t got the time to cover both MSL and MER, and, besides, as stupid as it sounds, I’d feel guilty about being less supportive of Oppy and the amazing team behind her. I know some will switch their attention away from Opportunity and to MSL, but I won’t. And I hope the media in general don’t – and I really, really hope that NASA don’t either. It would be an unforgiveable crime for them to just turn away from Oppy on August 6th, just because her curvier, shinier, sexier sister had barged into the party like Lady GaGa surrounded by bouncers…

So, here’s my plan. On August 7th, as the world waits impatiently for the first good pictures to come back from Gale crater, showing, we hope, Wild West style mesas, canyons and that big bad mountain, Opportunity will still be there, on Mars, working. Covered in dust, yes; weary and stiff from slogging across the great Meridiani Desert for the past eight years, yes; but she’s in an inredible place, with spectacular views, and is still in hot pursuit of amazing scientific discoveries. She may even beat Curiosity to some of those discoveries, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. So this blog will continue to cover Oppy’s mission, and support her, and her team, just as we have done since the start. Of course I’m going to be making colour panoramas and 3D anaglyphs and mosaics from the raw images Curiosity sends back, it would be impossible for me not to with my passion for Mars! But give up on Oppy?

Naaah. I don’t think so. I’m going to stay beside her as she works her way down the side of Cape York, looking for those gypsum veins, before trundling across Botany Bay and heading for Cape Tribulation and, one day, climbing that and looking for – and finding – those Holy Grail clay minerals. Endeavour might not be as sexy a place as Gale crater, and Oppy might not have Curiosity’s nuclear power, huge metal wheels or kick ass laser cannon, but to me she’s just as gorgeous and incredible as she was on the day she landed, and I’m going to walk beside her until she finally decides she can’t go on any more and her wheels stop for the final time.

And I hope you’ll all keep her company with me.


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8 Responses to The Big Day approaches…

  1. Crazee says:

    I’ve been working my way through this blog for the last two weeks and am now up to the present. And, thanks to your blog, the day you describe at the end of your post will be a very sad one for me (and how sad will it be for you?!?). But I hope that there’s a long way to go with many beautiful pictures from Oppy.

    But I will as well try to catch the livestream with curiosity’s landing. I “blame” you for that (that’s some crappy english I think).

    Go on!

  2. starbuck5250 says:

    Right behind you!

  3. Larry Dorau says:

    Thanks so much for providing the updates and commentary on good old Opportunity for so long. I have read it every day for a long time but this is the first time I’ve written a reply. There are probably thousands of people like me appreciating your work on a daily basis. Thanks again and I hope you don’t get tired of the responsibility. Rest assured that we’ll be with Opportunity until the end many years from now.

  4. Harald Wolf says:

    I with you! A few other points: though I am also anxious for Curiosity to succeed, I believe the jump in complexity has been too great – way too many things to go wrong, and too much riding on that success. Remember, Spirit and Opportunity were sent with the consideration that the failure of one would soon be forgotten, as long as one was reasonably successful. Also, sending 2 identical robots vastly reduces the costs, in development, construction and support. If was up to me, we’d have dozens of “cheap” clones running around on Mars and other bodies.
    But most important to me is that the MER rovers are solar powered! There’s a lot of beauty and respect in needing to pay attention to the sun and winds. Nuclear power is a brute force that says we don’t really want to be influenced by nature. And, how many exhausted and crashed nuclear engines do we want to scatter around the solar system?
    I was disappointed in the news conference on Monday. Why are they so single-minded in focusing in finding life? Sure, it would be neat to find stromatolites, but not as profound as some people think. Exploration is about putting yourself in a position to be surprised by the unexpected. The knowledge we have acquired about the solar system from the many craft we have sent out is phenomenal, and none of it has involved the discovery of life.
    I know all the folks that visit this and other blogs regularly are also excited by science, discovery and anxious to be surprised. Politicians (funders) and the media seem less open minded.
    Thanks again for your contributions!

  5. Marc G says:

    Please stick with it exactly as you describe.

  6. richard says:

    Great tribute to the loyalty and the constancy, doubtless virtues which make the science; I apoligize for my bad English but you are an excellent professor. in the sound and the fury she endure !

  7. Sarah says:

    Could you let us know where we go to follow the landing ‘live’?



    • phoenixpics says:

      Hi Sarah,

      NASA TV will be covering the landing live. Just do a Google search for NASA TV for a website to let you watch it online, or if you’re in the US you might even be able to watch it through your local cable TV provider…

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