This week, the news has given us one of the most inspiring stories of solitude I’ve ever heard. It was awe inspiring and sad. It instantly conjured up feelings of loneliness, empathizing with the subject of the stories.
The strange part is that it wasn’t even a person. It’s a robot. A rover, more accurately.
The Mars rover Opportunity ended its 15 years on the red planet with a final message transmitted by NASA to see if the rover would respond. Oppo, as it is known, had been silent for months since the battery drained in the cold martian winter, Oppo’s solar panels covered with dust. But NASA waited until the ‘windy’ season on Mars to see if dust would get blown off the panels to allow the sun to charge the batteries just enough for one final message back from so far away.
Why was this story so emotional for me? It’s a collection of nuts and bolts and a computer brain. I carry an iPhone with me all the time but don’t get sad for it if I accidentally leave it behind.
But there’s something about Oppo that pulls the heart strings. In the days since NASA announced the mission over, there have been comic strips drawn and published and editorials posted, all humanizing the little robot. Oppo was sent for one mission and ended up continuing far longer than was ever meant. The original mission was meant to last, catch this, 90 days. That’s it. They built this incredible rover, spent all the money to launch it into space, travel 140 million miles to land then collect data and images and transmit them back to earth… for 90 days. But little Oppo kept going and going and going. For nearly 15 years.
So now Opportunity sits there, likely covered in red martian dust, another bump on the landscape of a planet so far away. Perhaps one day humans will land there and find Oppo once again, but for now the Mars mission for humans is thought of as a one way trip since modern space craft don’t have the technology to fly nine months to get there, then turn around and get home (by comparison, the moon is about 240,000 miles away and took the lunar landers 3 days to get there).
I realize this is an odd post for Valentine’s Day. Or maybe it is the perfect one. I could end with ‘appreciate those around you’ or ‘don’t forget to call your mother’ or something like that. Nah. I want to send a Valentine’s message out to Oppo, alone on that planet after a job well done.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Oppo. Thank you for a job well done and all the great selfies from Mars.