At just after 1.20 this morning, I watched the date and time on the “Mars Clock” app tick-over from Sol 4999 23.59 to Sol 50000 00.00 and (after several practice attempts!) took this historic screen-grab…
Look at that. She did it. Opportunity did it.
She reached Sol 5000 on Mars.
I know I sound like a stuck CD (“Dad, what’s a DC?” “Oh, just Google it, son…”) every time I say this, and I’m sure most of you reading this will know it already, but it’s important to remember that when she was launched, back in 2003, everyone had their fingers crossed that IF she landed safely (which was by no means certain) she might last as long as 90 days on Mars, and drive as far as a kilometre, before failing. Some thought 90 sols was a reasonable figure to aim for, others thought it was very optimistic. So when she landed in Eagle Crater, in that “Cosmic Hole In One”, we were all watching the clock, watching the sols tick by, and Sol 90 seemed to dawn in no time at all. Then Sol 91… 92… 93… and nothing happened. She kept going. And going. Her wheels didn’t fall off. Her solar arrays didn’t crumble. She didn’t roll to a halt and topple over with a pathetic wheeze like R2D2 in that canyon on Tatooine. She kept roving across Mars. And the sols ticked by…
Today, largely forgotten by most people, including many people in the “space community” and, it seems, within NASA itself, Opportunity is still roving on Mars. And it is very important we celebrate that today is Sol 5000 of her mission – of her 90 day mission. She’s in good shape, and is still doing amazing, valuable science, followed faithfully by a hardcore group of rover fans who have followed her every move on Mars for the past 14 years, who have checked for new images daily, and who have walked beside her, virtually, as she has roamed the Red Planet, alone.
Late last night a new batch of images sent back by Opportunity was posted online, images taken at the start of Sol 4999. Among them were three black and white images of the rising Sun, each one taken through a different-coloured filter. By combining these I was able to make a single colour image of the martian sunrise. This is nothing new; I’ve done it countless thousands of times with other “triplets” over the past fourteen years with photos of Meridiani Planum’s crumbling rocky ledges, wind-etched meteorites and rolling dusty plains. But this time it was different. This time it felt… more important, like it meant something. This time it felt like I was making something significant.
Not to anyone else! No, that would be ridiculous. I mean significant to me, as a fan and follower of the mission. The MER mission has become very important to me, as have the people behind it. In a way, MER is my Apollo. I was too young for all the pre-Apollo 11 build-up, and by the time I was old enough to really appreciate the significance of the epic Apollo missions they were coming to an end. I feel like I missed them.
I realise my colourisations posted here on this blog are very crude and amateurish compared to the images produced by other image processors with more skill and more expensive software, etc, but they’re mine. I enjoy making them, and sharing them, and it’s good that others seem to enjoy seeing them, too. So when I saw that trio of sunrise images I knew I wanted to colourise them and make a special image to mark Opportunity reaching Sol 5000.
And here it is. Others will do better, much better, I’m sure; the colours in their versions will be more accurate, more realistic, just… better. But this is my celebration of the MER mission to date, and my celebration of Opportunity reaching Sol 5000.
I posted that on Twitter last night, wondering if there’d be much interest in it. After all, Opportunity seems to have been largely forgotten “out there”. As I write this it has been seen more than 36,000 times through being re-tweeted, shared and viewed by people around the world, which is fantastic. 🙂
While it looks like NASA itself isn’t planning on making a big deal of Opportunity reaching Sol 5000, I’m sure the MER team has something special planned to mark it, and I’ll post whatever that is when I can. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with another sunrise image. No “true” colours this time (I’ve colourised it blue just to make it look more like a real blue-hued martian sunrise), but if you look carefully you can see something up there to the top right… clouds, clouds in the martian dawn sky as the Sun rises above Endeavour Crater.
How wonderful is that?
And I’ll say it again. I think the best is yet to come.