Opportunity – Eleven Years a Heroine…

Eleven years ago, a Delta II rocket blasted off from a Cape Canaveral launch pad, thundering into the night sky, carrying in its nosecone a very precious cargo – a small robotic rover, destined for Mars. Like many people I watched that launch online – by dial-up connection, squinting to see detail in the tiny RealPlayer screen, as the picture broke up again and again into a Matrixesque haze of pixels – and my heart was in my mouth, cos, you know, rockets blow up, and there’s no guarantee *any* rocket is going to lift off safely. I remember holding my breath as the last few minutes and then moments counted down and the rocket finally rose from the pad, trailing smoke and flame…


…and I didn’t let it out until the rocket was little more than a pinprick of light, fading in the dark sky. Opportunity was on her way to Mars!

Then the wait, the long, long wait, until Landing Day, again watched online on a stuttering RealPlayer screen, and another terrible, gut-wrenching wait to hear the rover had landed and unfurled itself from inside its protective airbags. Then, long before we had been expecting it, word went out, the first pictures were back already! What would they show..?



Against all the odds, in an incredible Cosmic “Hole In One”  Oppy had landed in a small crater, where a layer of ancient bedrock was jutting out of one of its walls. The thing she had been sent to Mars to look for was there, right in front of her, so close she could almost reach out with her robot arm and touch it…

More than ten years later, Oppy is still driving around on Mars, long, long after she was expected to have died or failed or just stopped. She has crossed great deserts, driven around and into many beautiful craters, studied countless ledges and outcrops, survived dust storms and memory glitches, and as you read this she is climbing a mountain… a mountain…

Slowly but surely Oppy is making her way up the western rim of Endeavour Crater, and from her vantage point high above the crater floor she has a quite stunning view. The latest pictures show she has driven really close to a ledge of rock which is covered in stones, boulders and smaller rocks…


But as fascinating as that view is, it doesn’t really get across the real beauty of Mars. Mars isn’t a black and white world; Nature painted it in colour, with a palette bearing a thousand different shades of brown, red and orange. Here then, is my tribute to Opportunity – and the incredible team of men and women behind her – eleven years after she set off at the start of her historic adventure… my colourised (and by that I mean “beginner’s attempt to colour the rover’s black and white images in such a way that they give a roughly realistic view of what Mars would look like if you were standing here. I don’t mean “crudely and lazily coloured in a ghastly brown/yellow colour so that it looks more like Venus or Titan than Mars”)  view of the landscape and features she sees when she turns her head south and looks along, and up, the hills she will drive to shortly…


And look, even Mars itself – which, as you well know, usually does everything it can to destroy the spacecraft sent there to study it – is showing its approval of our plucky little rover, by giving it a rocky “thumbs up”…

thumbs up

Well done, Oppy. Well done. 🙂 x

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4 Responses to Opportunity – Eleven Years a Heroine…

  1. Tom says:

    …and for many years now I have been following your blog site. I distract myself at work in the morning when the latest “Road to Endeavour” shows up in my email. Thanks!

  2. hugoburnham says:

    I’d like to echo Tom’s previous comment, Stu.
    Since December 2008 you and your blog have given us an excellent record of Oppy’s travels and trials, always presented in your accessible way. Your passion of Mars and the MER programme are obvious and infectious.
    Long may Oppy and The Road To Endeavour continue.

  3. Pingback: Allgemeines Live-Blog ab dem 5. Juli 2014 | Skyweek Zwei Punkt Null

  4. Agree entirely with Tom & hugoburnham. I patiently wait for each next post. Thank you Stu

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