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The Trek to Endeavour: Land Ho!

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Eagle-eyed Phil Stooke – one of the unmannedspaceflight.com forum’s premier image masters – posted a picture on the forum this morning which literally made me grin like a cheshire cat…

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Now, that doesn’t look too impressive, I know, but that’s not the point. The point is those are some of the hills on the rim of Endeavour Crater!  Oppy can now see her next destination!

Phil actually made that pic by combining three different images taken by the rover and then vertically stretching the features on the horizon to make them stand out more clearly. If you look at one of the original pictures… (click to see the full size version)…

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… the hills are quite hard to see, up on the horizon at the top left. Here, let me highlight them for you…

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Ah, now you can see them, right? But you’ll see they look a lot less obvious than they do in Phil’s image, which is why he “stretched” them to make them easier to see.

Of course, me being me I couldn’t resist mucking about with the image to make the hills look even more obvious, and this is what I got after some playing around with Photoshop. (And before anyone says anything, I am not suggesting for a minute these are “accurate” in any way, they’re just me having a bit of fun, ok?  :-)  )

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… and being even more over-dramatic…

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They’re no better than Phil’s image, but making them made the hills – and the crater they encircle – just seem a bit more real to me, so there! ;-)

So, what are we actually looking at? Well, straight away I thought (and thanks to James Canvin, another UMSFer for confirming this) that what we are seeing are the hills on the northern edge of Endeavour. I’ve circled them on this beautiful image produced by yet another UMSFer, AstroO… click for a lovely full size version…

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Phil’s image isn’t particularly important or significant – as has been pointed out to me by several of my friends on UMSF (and I really should have remembered! DOH! ) the Hills of Endeavour have been sighted by Oppy before. This is probably the best image we have of them, taken when Oppy was exploring the perimeter of Victoria Crater. You can clearly see the hills on the horizon far beyond Victoria’s farside…

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Zooming in on the horizon makes them easier to see…

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That image showing the hills from Victoria Crater is undoubtedly much better than this new one, but what made this new image feel different to me was the fact that it shows a place we’re now actually en-route to, instead of just seeing on the horizon whilst doing something else. When that earlier image was taken no-one – apart from you, my ever-optimistic friend Rui! – was really thinking that the crater on the horizon was a realistic destination. But now Oppy is heading for that crater, crossing a vast sea of sand, mile after mile of it, and Endeavour is slowly, but surely, getting closer. I just felt touched by this new image because although Oppy’s next landfall is well over a year away, probably much more than that if the latest reports of the proposed route are correct, she can finally see the next “island”, and all of us out here, following her on her journey, are now looking forward to seeing that island get bigger and clearer as the days, weeks and months pass.

Does it matter? Really? Well, some people don’t get it, they just don’t. But that’s okay. I don’t “get” SHAMELESS or rap music. For those of us who do “get it” when it comes to space exploration, for those of us who faithfully check Exploratium for pictures several times a day, who check UMSF every hour, who have spent the last 5 years imagining we’re walking alongside the two Mars rovers, hell yes, this does matter. This really is an adventure like no other, we’re truly on an epic journey across Mars, witnesses to history. In the centuries to come, when Mars is colonised and its terracotta-coloured surface is painted with clear blue lakes and tumbling streams, when there are towns and even cities along the routes the rovers took across the floor of Gusev Crater and across the Big Country of Meridiani Planum, when Mars has become home to thousands and then millions of people and the 21st Century Lewis and Clark journeys of Spirit and Opportunity have passed into martian myth and legend, those martians will wonder what it was like for us, the people alive today, to have followed the Mars rovers on their epic journeys.

And they’ll envy us a little, I think…

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6 Responses

  1. “And they’ll envy us a little, I think…”

    Nah, they ‘ll be too busy downloading images from the rovers of α-Centauri :-)

  2. Actually the distant “Twin Peaks” have been visible since midway between Endurance and Victoria (and gosh, I don’t even want to think about how long that’s been). But it doesn’t matter, we are still happy to see them.

  3. Ever my friend, ever… ;)
    I’ll write you a sonet when we get there… :)

  4. Who still says “I don’t ‘get’ rap music”? Are you stuck in 1985 or something? Thanks for the article anyway.

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