Oh, you sentimentalists! Let’s face it, NASA’s space exploration rover “Opportunity” on Mars had the emotional intelligence of a toaster. When the Opportunity was declared dead on February 13, people mourned.
Okay, I will grant you a few human traits.
Selflessness: The Rover was never motivated by fame. Never took a day off and never complained that it was hot, too cold, or too hard. Opportunity worked from Day 1, January 25, 2004 until June 10, 2018 when it sent its last message.
Tenacity: When Opportunity got stuck in a ravine, NASA found the best way out was to “gun it.” Put pedal to the metal and let Opportunity do its thing. Opportunity was expected to last for only 90 days. Even its last image is a grainy shot of the storm that enveloped it and took away its last vestige of solar power. Opportunity never quit. Fittingly, it came to rest in Perseverance Valley.
Commitment: Opportunity took over 217,000 images of Mars, investigated Mars mineralogy, and analyzed the Martian soil.
Curiosity: Opportunity and Spirit, it’s twin rover, found out things about Mars we’ve always wondered. They found evidence of ancient volcanoes, flowing water, and favorable conditions to ancient microbial life.
Poetry: “My battery is low and it’s getting dark.” Admittedly, that is the human translation of the computer-coded last message from Opportunity, but who can’t appreciate years of hard work on behalf of something greater. Exploring something totally unknown, and ultimately having more information on your area of expertise than anyone. Opportunity had to make its NASA technicians proud.
I was fortunate enough to meet the Apollo-Soyuz astronauts in Moscow when I was there as a United States Embassy dependent in 1975. Despite the bitter rivalry between the US and the USSR during the Cold War, when I heard Deke Slayton speak to the audience at Star City, and see how his words and that mission transcended politics, transcended ideology, transcended everything, I knew that somehow space exploration was something that could help put human challenges into the right perspective, and help us figure out how to make progress together. Maybe we need a little more of whatever code NASA put into Opportunity’s DNA. No drama, just getting the job done every day until the battery runs low and lights go dark.
Okay, you were more than a toaster, Opportunity, and we salute a faithful scout.