For those of you who missed the recent drama on Mars, for something like a month, the rover named Opportunity has been stuck in the mud, or rather in a fine powdery rover-swallowing dust. So for five weeks it’s been sending back picture after pathetic picture like this. Fortunately it had already been on the planet for more than a year, so the mainstream press paid it almost no attention. But imagine what a drag it would have been to roll off the lander straight into soupy quicksand. At last, however, it’s out of the sand trap and on the move once more.
One of the entertaining things about the Mars rovers is that the latest pictures are posted immediately, so you can put together the story even before the JPL press release. So I had been going to the rover site regularly to see if they were making progress. Similarly, I was watching a few months ago as the Spirit rover struggled up a mountain looking for a view of the far side (also known as the view from Larry’s Lookout). Why did the bear go over the mountain? To see this. It’s not the most gorgeous picture, but it’s the first one that offered a glimpse of the world on the far side of the range. Every bear that went over a mountain knows that thrill. It was exciting to watch over the laboring rover’s shoulder, undistracted by public relations staff. We were given a virtual version of what cavers call “booty scooping”, which is to say, being the first to lay eyes on territory never before beheld by man.
Before we leave Mars for the day, take a look at this picture.
From orbit you can actually see the tracks left behind by Spirit as it climbs. Think about this: right now, there are two robots built by humans crawling around on the surface of Mars. Robots. On Mars.
That thought makes me happy.