I can’t believe I’m crying over a small, exhausted robot that metaphorically breathed its last about eight months ago being declared dead. No, scratch that, I absolutely can. #Opportunity
Spirit and Opportunity, the @MarsRovers of our hearts, were with me since they launched in 2003. They kickstarted my fascination with space, and by proxy with science and engineering.
When I was 11 or 12 I would spend hours poring over sheets of graph paper or Google SketchUp drawings where I carefully designed and rendered my own Mars rover. I even built a mock-up robotic arm out of scrap wood, tin flashing, and wingnuts.
Those rovers taught me the value of exploration, of curiosity, and gave me the impetus to learn how to design at scale, how to draft, and how to make mechanical ideas come alive using the materials at hand. Ultimately, they are the reason I went to school for engineering.
When I was about 9 or 10 I told my mom that @CornellCAS’s Steve Squyres was my hero. I watched the NOVA doc on the MER missions more times than I can count.
When I was 12, I went to the @museumofscience in Boston. My mom couldn’t tear me away from the Mars rover driving activity. A museum education staff member, presumably noticing my enthusiasm, came over to talk to us. My mom explained with some chagrin my love for @MarsRovers.
He was absolutely thrilled. This was right around when the Spirit driving team was trying their last few Hail Mary maneuvers to free the rover. He found several papers detailing their most recent efforts and was happy to sit with me and discuss them until the museum closed.
I took those papers back to my grandparents’ house and read them in bed that night with a kind of religious fervor. My grandparents sold that house shortly after and I never saw it again. Spirit and Opportunity were with me in the final days I spent in that beloved house.
When Spirit was declared dead some time later, I adapted the lyrics of my favorite sea chanty (“A-Roving,” as recorded by The Revels Chorus) to make a fitting memorial to its years of service.
Later, when I’d “grown up” (whatever that means), I spent less time with Opportunity. I still made sure to check up on her every few months though. Over the weeks of the storm’s growth I watched @elakdawalla’s Twitter incessantly for updates
I had a familiar sinking feeling in my stomach as the storm grew stronger and larger. Today that sinking feeling finally hit bottom with a loud “CLANG.”
Ultimately, engineering school didn’t work out for me. I switched to art history, and I’m much happier now. But a couple of weeks ago, absent a tripod and adapter, I built a mount for my phone out of garbage, duct tape, and twine.
Last week I cheered up my friend by fixing the second speaker in her sound system with wire strippers, isopropyl alcohol, and electrical tape. The engineering and practical thinking has stuck with me, in the way that it does.
Spirit and Opportunity started me on that path, 16 years ago, when I was 6 years old. One or both were with me when my grandparents sold their house, when I went through my first breakup, and every missed or fumbling step up to today.
For the first time in my coherent memory, I’m in a post-MER world. Now, I’m off to bed so that tomorrow, I can honor their memories with spirit in my step and an eye for the opportunities that make a life.
Thank you, @MarsRovers, @CornellCAS, @museumofscience, and the whole MER team, for 16 years of exploration and discovery. Keep on roving.
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