NASA has announced they will make one last attempt to contact the Spirit Mars rover, then stop trying to communicate with it. Spirit is one of two robotic vehicles that have been studying various features of the surface of Mars since January 2004. The last communication with Spirit was on March 22, 2010.
Obviously, there’s more than a bit of sadness that Spirit’s mission has finally ended. I admit, I feel a bit sad myself. Even without anthropomorphizing Spirit, this is a landmark and melancholy occasion. However, I was thinking about another perspective:
- Spirit was intended to operate for 3 months, meaning it would cease operating in April 2004. If you assume a human life expectancy of 75 years (approximately), Spirit enduring until 2010 is like a human living 1,850 years.
- Spirit was to travel about a half kilometer in its lifetime. Instead, it traveled 7.73 kilometers — more than 12 times the intended distance. That doesn’t sound like a very significant distance (since a healthy human could walk that distance in two hours or less), remember that this is a heavy robot with lots of sensitive electronic equipment…that is traveling across the surface of an entirely different planet!
- Spirit is survived by its partner robot, Opportunity. The mission isn’t over even now!
All in all, I think the end of Spirit is a cause for celebration. If all our projects are a fraction as successful, or if our lives are a tiny bit as productive, we would consider ourselves truly fortunate. May we all show such Spirit.