Bye-Bye Oppy (A fond farewell to the Mars Opportunity Rover)

Mars Opportunity Rover Photo

I am not one of the space enamoured generation that put a man on the moon. In fact as I understand it as an early 20-something I’m supposed to care more about The Kardashians than space travel, but I’ve always been a dreamer personally and there’s still some part of me that looks up in wonder at the stars and just wishes that I could see that universe a little closer.

I wrote this piece to talk about space travel very broadly and more specifically about the Mars Opportunity Rover. First let’s speak broadly, I mentioned above that I am not from the generation that put a man on the moon, but I wish I was because the very notion that we could do that gives me hope, and sparks my imagination. And it’s not like it’s over I mean we’ve had a pretty consistent presence in space since the I.S.S (International Space Station) was launched in the 1998, and even before then since we first launched a man into space (that man was Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin aboard the Vostok 1 just in case you were interested) we’ve kept going back, we’ve sent somewhere between 536 and 543 people into space, the exact number depending upon where you draw the line. And isn’t that just amazing, those people each of them trained and dedicated their lives in pursuit of a reaching space, in a completely inhospitable environment, they truly lived their greatest lives.

But hyperbole aside, we even sent animals into space, everything from mice, to fruit flies to monkeys and frogs and even dogs. The most famous and most familiar of which was probably Laika who went into space back on the 3rd November 1957 aboard Sputnik 2. Although she never survived the journey she paved the way for future manned flights and back in April 2008 Russian Officials unveiled a statue of her as a tribute, it displays Laika on top of a rocket.

So my point for this section is that we’ve been their plenty, in fact it’s apparently estimated that space travellers have spent collectively 29,000 earth days in space, which is roughly 77 years. So we know that we want to be there. We’ve even taken our animals and everyone knows the first step in most relationships, maybe before moving in full time is getting a pet. And we now know that we can handle that as well. So I think humanities dalliance with space has potential.

But a few days ago, we received a blow in the form of an official decision to declare The Mars Opportunity Rovers mission completed. I mean on one hand the Mars Opportunity Rover (who is also known as Oppy or Mars Exploration Rover- B if you are feeling fancy) is a humble, kind, hard-working, never complaining little robot and I feel sad because he’s finally done with his mission but I feel like his cessation will only lead to the conclusion of more projects and the end of our time in the stars.

But this isn’t suppose to be morbid, I want to talk about Oppy and how truly amazing  he was and how that scrappy little machine kept doing it’s mission from January 25th 2004 right up until it’s last recorded signal to earth on June 10th 2018. In fact it may still be going, we just can’t communicate. Oppy surpassed all expectations, functioning in earth time for 14 years and 46 days which is apparently 55 times it’s estimated lifespan.

Oppy travelled over 40km (which is approximately 25 miles) and achieved the record of longest Off-world distance by a rover, going even further in 2015 when Oppy covered a marathon in distance (42.195 kilometers or 26.219 miles). He reached the summit of ‘Cape Tribulation’ in January 2015 which is the highest point reached by one of the rovers. Its done all that and so much more.

Oppy may have lived a life of adventure but his surprisingly long life was not one without tragedy because Oppy outlived its Twin, designated ‘Spirit’ or MER-A (Mars Exploration Rover – A) who functioned from January 4th 2004 until March 22, 2010 when it sent it’s last signal. This left Oppy all alone on the surface of the red planet.

Now I first became interested in these funny little explorers when the viral news story about the Curiosity Rover singing Happy Birthday to itself spread across the internet which I was saddened to learn was slightly exaggerated. Now it’s true that on August 5th 2013 ‘Curiosity’ did ‘hum’ happy birthday to itself on the first anniversary on Mars but it hasn’t done so since due to the effort in coordinating the effort. But as someone who loves and humanises Roombas this was enough to peak my interest in them.

But overall I guess this is all a really long winded way of saying that I hope that the space faring nations of Earth taking inspiration from Oppy’s memory and continue to reach out beyond that next horizon. And more to the point it’s a way to deal with the news that after sending over 1000 signals to Mars and receiving no response and making every effort to regain contact with Oppy after losing contact with him during a global dust storm back in June 2018, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) officially declared his mission complete.

So I feel like everyone should just take a moment, or in my case a few days to just process this and think about the little guy roaming eternally across the red roads of Mars and maybe even drop him a message on Facebook or even Tweet at him, who knows he may even read it.


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