MER@9

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My good friend Stuart Atkinson and I have once again collaborated on a ‘poemster’ (poem/poster) to mark the ninth year of Opportunity’s journey across Mars. Nine unbelieveable years! Enjoy this latest power – a variety of versions above to download. Below you’ll find a wallpaper or two to use. Enjoy!

A sincere ‘Thank you’ to everyone on the Mars Exploration Rover team. Ninety days turned into nine years of adventure. You are all amazing!

See below for my special story on Opportunity’s nine year adventure.🙂

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WALLPAPERS
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WAS IT REALLY NINE YEARS AGO?!

Has it really been 9 years?! Was it really late January 2004 when we all huddled around screens in museums, at home and on the internet to watch the second of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers attempt to set down on the red planet?

It seems like yesterday. It had to be yesterday surely. But yesterday is full of memories, years-worth of oh so many amazing moments in Opportunity’s journey.

That view of ‘The Great Wall’ in Eagle Crater, those little spherical blueberries, the mysterious rabbit, that first views across the plains and ‘Bounce Rock’. Across the almost flat, cracked landscape and then suddenly Endurance Crater opens its maw and the rover dives inside to marvel at the fine layers of Burns Cliff, the brain-like rock called Wopmay and the intricate weave of that basins rippled dunes. Was it that long ago?

I’m sure I recall seeing the spot where Opportunity’s heatshield wacked the Martian terrain and turned itself inside-out exposing its shiny reflective surface. There was the trek across a seemingly endless dune sea, the rover forging on past mini-craters and piles of cobbles. That heart-stopping moment in Purgatory Dune, wheels stuck, and the efforts of engineers and rover drivers shovelling a concoction of flour-like soil to simulate the rover’s plight and plan and test extraction techniques. They succeeded!

Rounding Erebus Crater and crossing Payson Passage, then across the plains once more and over rocky islands surrounded by waves of lapping butterscotch and ochre sands. In the distance a ‘beacon’ shone bright, a lighthouse of sorts calling the aging rover onwards.

After sometimes months of sitting around, watching the clouds go by and resting weary wheels and joints, she’d set off again dodging more sand traps and sailing the swell between the cresting waves of the dune sea.

Then suddenly – calm. First Beagle Crater, and then, a shoreline had been reached, a beach as flat as a carpark – a beach surrounding what sort of island? No hint ahead of the view that lay head of us – only the ever present ‘beacon’.

Then one fine day a great and awe-inspiring sight appeared dead ahead. The jagged cliffs and stadium-like bowl of Victoria Crater. What a place!

Would they dare enter this arena? Where was the best place to try? A rove around the rim would provide the answers. Skirting around Capes that were too scary to approach and Bays that were too steep traverse, the rover eventually returned to the home port of this concave island and prepared to enter Duck Bay. But Mars had other ideas.

A great dust storm darkened the skies. A terrifying prospect was before us, of the rover dying in the fading light and buried beneath a shroud of light suffocating dust. Fate and faith smiled though and gave the rover one more tilt at life. The Sun returned to Meridiani Planum.

Undaunted by this near-death experience, the rover drove into Duck Bay, going deeper with every sol. Layer upon layer greeted her instruments and further back in time she ventured. Cape Verde’s wall of fractured rock called from across the Bay, “Come see the story buried in my pages of times past.” But technology intervened and signs of wear on weary wheels meant that the rover had to leave this place or else be stuck there forever.

The journey from Eagle Crater to Endurance had already been a full mission in itself. The journey south to Victoria, well beyond her landing ellipse had been one for the history book of science history books. Far, far, far to the south east though another ‘promised land’ lived and an aching rover was despatched towards its distant shores.

Some called it Ithaca, but it was soon to be known as Endeavour Crater. A vast, ancient place that held promise of new discoveries and new adventures, but the journey was a long one, with no certainty that it would ever be reached. The little rover was sent anyway.

First south to avoid the uncharted purgatory-type dunes and then a sharp right at Block Island – a metal and rock lump that had fallen from the sky. West then south again and more sky fall islands. These excited some but frustrated others as they slowed the journey to far off Endeavour.

More craters marked the voyage – fresh Concepcion and the twins of San Antonio – further on the southern line and then a sharp left and east, east, east.

Over the horizon, the ‘hills’ of Endeavour rhythmically peaked above and dipped below the sandy waves as sol after sol went by. The years swept by on Earth – years, but it still doesn’t seem that long ago.

Across the waves and more islands of stone passed beneath the rover’s wheels. More than half way to Endeavour a pit stop presented itself. A welcome break from the monotony of sand and pale stone.

Santa Maria opened her doors to the weary traveller’s wheels and eyes. A gift from Mars saying “Season’s Greetings! You’ve come so far! There’s room at this inn.”

The science stop at Santa Maria Crater lasted 3 Earth months and allowed the mission team to satisfy their craving for knowledge, but it was time to move on.

On the distant horizon now, Endeavour’s ‘Sauron-like’ eye watched the approach of this little metal machine, a vehicle so ‘precious’ to so many back home, pushing, willing her forwards.

Time to go faster and a new way to drive further each sol. Maxwell’s wiggle made zig-zags in the Martian soil that helped stretch each leg of the voyage a little more.

South east now and more details of Endeavour’s shores pierced the horizon. No beacon this time, except the mysterious eye. No “heck of a view” as the rover dipped towards the massive waiting bowl. A gulf wider than the entire ground track of the rover’s epic journey.

Was that a dust devil in the distance? The first seen by this rover. Was it a devil in disguise guarding some ancient treasure? It wouldn’t be long before we found out.

Small craters provided waypoints guiding the rover towards its goal. A small peninsula on Endeavour’s shores would be her first port of call – Cape York.

Everyone wanted to be the first to call out “Land ho!”, but York’s landfall remained hidden. To the right, the once distant hills became mountains. In their slopes were hints of scientific ‘gold’ spotted from above. Clues to possible clays from Mars’ wetter past, but those places were for another time, first Cape York.

The mountains now revealed themselves as ancient battlements surrounding an unimaginably vast place – a world within a world – Endeavour’s mighty space crowned with a Cyclops eye watching over its domain.

A few more steps and “yes!” Cape York – “Land ho!!!!” we cried. The rover had made it!

There was so much to see here, so much to do. It was like starting a whole new adventure, a whole new mission in a strange, faraway land.

The journey to Endeavour had been lonely but not alone. People cared for her from Earth, pointing the way forward, sending all the information she needed.

Others watched from the ‘backseat’ urging her forward and gleefully receiving all the information she provided.

The joy of completing a Captain Cooks’ traverse through oceans of sand was tempered by the fact that the rover faced a time, truly alone on Mars. Her sister had passed away during the voyage and so in fitting tribute, landfall on Cape York was honoured by the name ‘Spirit Point’. A tear fell from Endeavour’s eye.

More to do, the games afoot, and the journey goes ever on!

Around Odyssey Crater, the rock garden and those aircraft carriers of stone transporting zinc and bromine in their holds. Then north to explore Cape York’s western shoreline to look for a safe harbour to rest during the coming winter.

Along the way, white lines appear, like those on some mariner’s map. Lines that revealed treasure was right in front of our mechanical feet.

This dazzling, living landscape had veins of gypsum flowing through her. One more tale of ancient water revealed in this anything but barren place.

Turkey Haven near Cape York’s tip permitted the rover a favourable place to settle down for a winter’s rest, but she would never sleep. There was still so much to do – a panorama to be taken, long shadows into Endeavour revealing a tiny bump surrounded by a halo – the rover seeing itself silhouetted against the crater’s dust streaked floor.

More than a hundred sols go by and then it’s on the road again. Time to head to Cape York’s most northern point and investigate the ‘dagger’ that cut into her shore. Whim Creek they dubbed it and the rover just bounded from one bank to the other, stopping briefly to splash about in its imaginary waters.

The journey heads south to find the source of CRISM’s signature of phyllosilicate soils. The road ahead was flat but to the west something new appeared. Strange formations never before seen presented themselves to curious onlookers. Time to investigate!

‘Newberries!’ ‘Whitewater Lake!’ ‘Vermillion!’ ‘Matijevic Hill!’ What a place this is!

The ‘promised land’ indeed.

More time, more time. She needs more time.

The journey seems like it only started yesterday.

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