Spirit – Mission End
By coincidence or perhaps fate, I was visiting the Deep Space Network station in Madrid, Spain on the morning that the last signal to search for Spirit was sent at the speed of light towards Mars.
At that sombre moment (in the back of my mind still hoping that she’d call home when all seemed lost) I recalled my feelings on that day more than seven years ago when Spirit first landed on Mars. I was at my tracking station in Canberra, Australia and talking to a few hundred people who had gathered at the Complex visitor centre to witness a moment in history – a robotic extension of humanity’s desire to explore was landing on the red planet.
I remember the emotion of the crowd as we waited with our breath held tight in our chests, hoping that Spirit had made a safe landing. We watched the faces of those at JPL’s mission control as the aching minutes went by.
Mission control stirred, voices shouted in excitement, the room erupted and joy filled the air as a signal was captured through Canberra’s and Goldstone’s dishes – Spirit was alive on Mars!
The hundreds that had gathered in our centre broke into loud applause and cheers. Most were students, suddenly inspired by this moment – this was their generation’s Moon landing.
This mission held more ‘moments’ for me. I was with Steve Squyres on the morning when Spirit’s images from the summit of Husband Hill reached Earth. I was right behind him as he searched a strange website called unmannedspaceflight.com looking for that first summit mosaic and watched his excitement as he looked at the view over that peak, and saying over and over, “Look at that, Glen, look at that!”
Over the last seven years I have met many of Spirit’s Earth-bound human team. Scientists, engineers, drivers….dreamers. They shared their mission with me and many others.
I feel privileged to have been there as she begun her journey, reached the greatest heights and finally at her end.
Through Spirit and her team, the thrill, wonder and joy of exploration is alive in all of us.
Glen Nagle (aka Astro0)
To mark the end of Spirit’s mission, my good friend Stuart Atkinson has written a fitting farewell which I’ve combined with a beautiful image of Spirit’s final resting place. The image was taken shortly after sunrise on one peaceful Martian morning. The sun’s light illuminating Gusev Crater and new horizons yet to be explored.