Roving Mars for 5 years and counting

5 Jan
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

Dusty Solar Panels on Spirit/Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell

The Mars rovers may not make the news as much as they once did, but Spirit and Opportunity are still the little Mars missions that could. Spirit bounced its way through a successful landing on Mars 5 years ago, on January 3, 2004.

The rovers feel like old dear work colleagues that I revisit from time to time. Early in my journalism career, I interviewed Steve Squyres of Cornell about the rovers’ longevity in August 2004, just 8 months after they landed. He’s still talking about being exhausted, but he still sounds just as excited now as he did then.

Squyres is dynamic, engaging and decidedly unpretentious. The first time I interviewed him, he munched on a sandwich while he talked to me by phone. Later, when I interviewed him for an Astronomy feature about Spirit, he described that rover’s “personality quirks” and the real risks that the rover team took in deciding to drive Spirit kilometers– eventually towing a lame wheel, sometimes backwards– toward the Columbia Hills. In 2005 and 2006, I pored over Spirit’s photos and traverse maps for a Mars exhibit (that sadly didn’t make it into production) , marking rocks and distances in photographs. Among the Himalayan scale of Mars rover data, I’ve studied a few boulders around the edges.

The new JPL video makes the connection between the rovers and their prescient names: Spirit, the scrappy robot that had to work for everything and Opportunity, who capitalized on landing in the right place.

I feel a certain sisterhood with Spirit, holding on through Martian winters, weathering dust storms, but discovering salty soil and examining bedrock. As she was beginning her climb in the Columbia Hills, I made my own trek from Indiana to New York City, from chemistry to journalism. It’s been a rewarding trip, but it hasn’t been easy. I’ve drug my own gimpy wheel at times, sometimes feeling like I was looking over my own shoulder. But nearly 5 years on my own journey, I have a Squyres-esque smile on my face, and I’m saluting an inspiring road warrior, on a planet 100 million miles or so away.

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3 Responses to “Roving Mars for 5 years and counting”

  1. SIMUNIC February 3, 2010 at 6:51 pm #

    auf der rechte seite kann man erkenen den kamm auf dem boden doch da gabs früher unbekannte lebe wesen aber die sind ausgestorben forschen witer bitte

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. More Mars Rovers « Webb of Science - May 27, 2009

    […] NASA, Opportunity, rovers, Spirit by webbofscience The rovers are still my favorite NASA mission, for reasons I’ve already written about. Even if the rovers quit tomorrow, the rover science team of Steve Squyres of Cornell and company […]

  2. Triple digits! « Webb of Science - May 7, 2010

    […] guidelines) and the cultural divide between my new world and the old one. I’ve written about my favorite Mars rover, my Monopoly money bet on Spirit, and her transition to stationary science […]

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