Like most science-fiction fans, I am also a follower of science. Science is amazing—it is the true superpower of the human species. And few things epitomize the dazzling upper limits of our scientific knowledge like space fairing machines.
The Opportunity Mars rover has a great story. Built to include a few pieces of metal on it from the World Trade Center, it was expected to last for its 92-day mission, and then quietly fail. But it kept going. Even when it looked like it was done, it found a way to keep moving, to keep exploring, to keep sending us never before seen data on Mars and our solar system and our universe, teaching us more than we ever knew, expanding our horizons. Day after day, month after month, year after year, Opportunity never gave up.
Finally, yesterday, nearly fifteen years after its 92 day mission, after months of being out of contact and its team trying everything it could, Opportunity was declared dead.
It’s last message to us:
“My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”
I’m thrilled that it lasted as long as it did, and that it has given us so much to work with. We’ll be learning about Mars for years to come thanks to Opportunity. But I’ll admit when I read that Opportunity was gone, it hit me deeply. Not just because a roving probe has ceased functioning. I’m a writer; I put meaning on things. And I put a lot of meaning on Opportunity.
It was built at a time when America still valued science and scientific discovery, regardless of political party or affiliation—and it was built as well as it could be built. It captured the imagination of a nation and the world. It exceeded all of our expectations, and expanded our horizons. It was something that we could all rally around. It was an American rover, but it was a human achievement. Opportunity represented our ability to think big, to achieve big. Opportunity made us better.
And now it’s gone.
These days even the most basic science is considered heresy based on one’s politics. The divide seems even greater than the distance between Earth and Mars. Our differences are so small, but we’re too busy fighting over little scraps on our tiny blue dot to think big anymore.
There are other Mars probes, like Curiosity, that will continue on. But will we be able to all unite behind it like we did Opportunity? I hope we will. I hope one day we as a species will be willing to allocate more money to breaking knowledge barriers than trying to build physical ones. But that day isn’t today. Today, I mourn for Opportunity lost.
Published on: February 14, 2019