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‘My battery is low and it’s getting very dark’ – Why we’re crying over losing Opportunity

Yesterday, NASA announced what most of us had been fearing since last June: that the Mars Opportunity rover is officially dead.

Despite being aware of what NASA was going to say, many of us (present company included) had a strong emotional reaction to the news.

I found myself questioning why so many of us felt like this. After all, Opportunity is a 180 kilogram (about 400 pounds) chunk of metal that’s been cruising around another planet for a decade and a half. It was never alive, does not have a personality, and does not have feelings.

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All that said, I lost it yesterday after I typed that in June 2018, as the dust storm descended on it, Oppy sent a message to Earth saying “my battery is low, and it’s getting very dark.” Even now, it makes me tear up a little bit (you can thank KPCC’s science reporter Jacob Margolis for tugging at your heart like that). 

Then there are the memes.

(Credit: unknown)

I simply cannot press F hard enough for this meme.

But there were other great memes, too.

I also hadn’t thought about this before, but as one commenter on the aSE Facebook page noted, Opportunity was running just fine before Trump took office.

I also had no idea that the LEGO company released a “Mars Exploration Rover” set over a decade ago:

If you’re interested, you can snag one on Amazon for the low, low price of $500. Hurry, because there are only two sets left. Conversely, the Mars Curiosity Rover LEGO set is only $305 right now on Amazon. You know, in case you’re feeling frugal.

Then there’s this one:

(While I rearranged the panels to make this one easier to follow and read [I found the OP on Imgur], all credit for this one goes to the original creator of it:

(Credit: Unknown)

Why do we feel such strong emotional attachment?

I think a large part of why so many feel so strongly for Oppy is because NASA does a great job of helping us anthropomorphize spacecraft. After all, these things are essentially just super fancy computers with special cameras/sensors and solar panels. They’re not sentient, and they’re not living creatures. But NASA creates social media channels for each and every one – @MarsRovers, @MarsCuriosity, @NASAJuno, @NASANewHorizons, etc.

Also, and probably more relevant for those who don’t necessarily follow all the NASA social media accounts, is the fact that many people like me grew up with Opportunity on Mars.

We shouldn’t let ourselves get too upset for Oppy, though!

Remember the good times. Remember that its original mission was supposed to last for just 90 days. Remember that it lasted nearly 60 times longer than expected. Remember all the discoveries. Remember that Curiosity is still going strong, and that Mars 2020 rover will launch in the summer of 2020, following int he footsteps of Opportunity, Spirit, Curiosity, and all the other Mars-bound spacecraft that preceded it.

Three generations of Mars rovers in one picture

And possibly what’s more important to remember is all the NASA/JPL staff who designed, built, launched, and monitored the day-to-day operations for Oppy. I can’t even begin to imagine the level of attachment they felt to Opportunity, and the bittersweet emotions they must be feeling this week. While they didn’t have very high hopes of Oppy making it through the storm, knowing that it’s officially gone is unlikely make things any easier for them.

Thank you, Opportunity.

Despite most of us not having a direct connection to the mission, it’s something that was familiar to us. I was 19 years old when Oppy launched in July of 2003. It’s been a constant presence throughout almost my entire adult life. It certainly wasn’t something I thought about every day, week, or even month, but from time to time we’d see stories about how there absolutely used to be liquid water on Mars, and other important findings.

Opportunity was a constant for many of us. It was always there, always working hard for us, doing its best to teach us everything it could about the red planet. And now that it’s gone, we all feel a bit empty inside.

And that’s okay.

Goodnight, sweet prince.

Written by Dan Broadbent

Science Enthusiast. Atheist. Lover of cats.




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