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Spirit – 2000 sols on Mars…

2000 pic

Today is a big day – no, a HUGE day – for fans and followers of NASA’s epic Mars Exploration Rover mission. Today, Spirit, the first of the two MERs to land on Mars, marked its 2000th day of operations on the Red Planet.

2000 days. 2000 days! This people who built, designed and sent this little rover, remember, were hoping that it would last 90 days on Mars before succumbing to the planet’s frigid cold, dust-blasting wind and general nastiness. It’s lasted 20 times longer than that, and if it hadn’t got bogged down in that blasted sucking sandpit called “Troy” it would by now have roved away from Homeplate and would be studying the intriguing peaked mound known as “Von Braun”. But somehow that doesn’t matter today. All that matters is that Spirit is still with us, still taking photos, still doing science and still showing us Mars more than five years after she landed.

I was, of course, planning on writing a long, rambling, over-sentimental and unashamedly rover-huggy post about this anniversary… but now it’s here all I can think of writing is, well…

Thank you.

Thank you to the engineers and techs who, all those years ago now, designed and built Spirit, and her sister rover Opportunity.

Thank you to the people at JPL who drive these magnificent machines every day, steering them across the rocky landscape of Mars, around boulders, through and over dust dunes and from one wonderful viewpoint to another. I was lucky – no, privileged – enough to meet some of them when I visited JPL last year (OMG, is that really almost a year ago?!?!), and their dedication, pride and sheer joy is an almost physical thing.

Thank you to the webmasters who put the rovers’ images online so quickly, allowing me, and people like me, to virtually walk alongside the rovers as they roam Barsoom.

Thank you to my online family of fellow “armchair astronauts” on unmannedspaceflight.com, who have been my travelling companions during the epic, Enterprise-like 5 year missions of Spirit and Opportunity. UMSF is an online group of image makers, scientists, space enthusiasts and fans, and is now respected throughout cyberspace as a kind of online Babylon 5, a place where people with one thing in common – a love of unmanned space exploration – come together to try and make something, well, special. It’s not a place for woo-woos, or bigots, or rude big gobs, so it attracts people actually involved IN the space missions it discusses, because they know they won’t get hassled by knowitalls, or worse… and that means that there are many other online groups and communities that are jealous of us for what we have, who insult us and slag us off (hi, T42!). But it’s dust off a rover’s back. We’ll be here long, loooong after you’ve gone, my friends, so just carry on, ok? ­čÖé

But most of all, thank you to Steve Squyres, the man behind the machines. I’m not going to go into the role Steve has played in the MER mission, most people know that by now. But suffice it to say that without Steve’s lava-hot passion for Mars, and the exploration of Mars, it would not be appreciated for the dynamic, beautiful, noble world it is today, we’d still be stuck in the Viking era. I was lucky to meet Steve at JPL last year and I really did feel like a┬á13 year old girl meeting their favourite pop star, because standing there, talking to him, watching him lean back against that wall so casually, happy to just chat away, I was struck by how much Steve has revolutionised our view of Mars. He’s given us a Mars of dust devils and dust dunes; the Mars where meteorites stand on the surface like Easter Island statues and twin moons skate across a star-dusted sky; the Mars where hills are there to be climbed, and craters are there to be driven down into.

2000 sols… 2000 days… and I’ve lived through, and loved, every single one of them. I was here, at this very computer – tho in a different living room in a different flat in a different town – when Spirit landed, Opportunity too, and I’ll be here when they eventually die. That day will come, but it is not today. Today we celebrate the amazing achievements of a rover that has been on an alien planet for more than five years, has witnessed 2000 sunrises and 2000 sunsets, and has made us look up at that glittering red point of light in the sky in a new way – as our future home.

To mark the occasion properly I’ve written one of my astropoems about it, which you can find here if you are interested in having a read of it.


Carnival of Space #116…

… is now available online for your spacey reading pleasure, at the “habitationintention” blog. Some really fascinating posts on there this week, so grab a coffee, and a (insert name of biscuit of your choice here… Peanut Chunky Kit Kats are a good choice for the discerning dunker, as are mint Viscounts, but you may prefer something else. Anyway, I digress…) and after clicking this ┬álink you can spend a good hour, at least, catching up on the best of the past week’s space and astronomy blogging!