Spirit: A self-portrait. (Credit: NASA/JPL).
This week, amid news of distant gamma ray bursts, daring spacewalks, and spacecraft redesigns, a small story came our way of the end of an era; earlier this week, NASA announced that it would no longer attempt to hail the Spirit Lander on the surface of Mars. Of course, we knew it was coming; Spirit had hobbled along the past few years, and was last heard from March 22nd of last year. A campaign to Free Spirit unfortunately ran up against the long Martian winter, which probably killed her solar charging batteries for good. Of course, the Mars Spirit and Opportunity rovers were a resounding success; Spirit landed on the Red Planet on January 4th, 2004 at the Gusev site later dedicated as Columbia Memorial Station and traveled 4.8 miles over 6 plus years… that’s way past her original 90 day warranty. Just stop and think, in YOUR household, early 2004 was how many cell phones/laptops ago? I think most of us were installing XP and bonding our shinny new Razors in those days… meanwhile Spirit kept chugging along towards Columbia Hills, overcoming software glitches, dust devils, and lame wheels. A whole generation of Martian surface science was performed by these little rovers that could. “Oppy” now carries the flag of human presence on the surface of Mars at Meridiani and is headed towards Endeavour Crater until the SUV-sized Curiosity skyhooks in, hopefully in August of next year. Farewell, old friend… hopefully, you’ll get dusted off by some future Mars explorer and placed in fitting tribute in a museum one day!