Wednesday, May 25, 2011

RIP Spirit

There have been numerous reports over the last couple of days on the fact that after many attempts, NASA is giving up on re-establishing contact with the Spirit Rover. Phil Plait at Bad Astronomy provides what strikes me as a very fitting eulogy. Followup: Another concise but satisfying summary of the life and times of Spirit by Ryan Anderson at The Martian Chronicles.

I got quite a bit of flack, early in Spirit's rovings, for pointing out that it was very slow, primitive, and limited. I stick by those comments, though. With a six-hour source of breathable air, a hammer, hand lens and camera, I could accomplish in that time much of what Spirit took six years to do. What my critics failed to grasp was that this was intended as a slam on neither the rover, its engineers, nor the mission scientists who managed the day-to-day logistics, data acquisition and analysis. The fact is, we do not have the means to put me (or others more competent) onto Mars alive. Spirit was state-of-the-art... ten years ago. My point was simply that compared to technologies of the near future, or (drool) human explorers, it's important to understand just how limited Spirit really was. That should take nothing away from the accomplishments of the plucky little rover that could, but rather provide motivation and inspiration for the next steps in our exploration of Mars and other solid-surfaced planets and moons.

To Paraphrase the X-Files, the truth is out there, and I want to believe we have the determination to find it. I know we have the resources. I know if we choose to, we can figure out how to make it happen. The only thing I'm uncertain about is whether we have the will.

Certainly, taking the next step will help make up for the undignified manner of Spirit's demise:


Dr. MVM said...

Spirit was a hell of a rover.

And I don't drink coffee.

Cujo359 said...

We got far more out of Spirit and Opportunity than we could have hoped. Research into remote robotic operations that was required to make these probes operational has been useful here on this planet, too.

Hopefully, this won't be the last time we visit there, even if it's only in a virtual sense.