Oh, Dear Reader, I have made a grievous mistake. Today is Valentine’s Day, and I should be happy, but alas and alack, I am not and it is all for this: I’ve anthropomorphized a robot.
The Mars rover Opportunity is probably something you’ve heard of, but don’t know a whole lot about. I know I didn’t know a whole lot about it until yesterday. I knew it sent us some great photos, and I thought it sang “Happy Birthday” to itself every year, but then I learned that that is actually Curiosity. Yeah, there are two little roving robots up on Mars right now (well, technically only one is left roving, and actually we’ve sent up seven total).
But Opportunity lasted the longest, landing on Mars 15 years ago. It was only meant to last for 90 days, but it proved to be much more resilient than that. Opportunity traveled just 28 miles in its lifetime, but those 28 miles have never been covered by anything else from Earth, so maybe don’t be a dick about it, okay?
On June 10th, 2018, Opportunity entered into hibernation to reserve its
solar-powered battery. Dust storms blotted out the sun, and it shut down with hopes it would boot up again when the dust settled and it could be charged once more. The end of Opportunity’s watch was called yesterday, February 13th, 2019, when, after six months of sending signals out to it, it had failed to answer. Its mission has been officially declared complete.
Its final message was:
My battery is low and it’s getting dark.– Mars Exploration Rover – B aka Oppy
I’ve struggled so far to not call Opportunity “him” for a number of reasons, mostly because he says “my” so the little dude comes off as sentient, but also, well, just look at him!
For goodness sake, he looks like Wall-E!
Anyway, it’s not just me who’s humanizing this poor, little, lonely sentinel out in space, and undoubtedly all these sad-as-fuck tributes are aiding in the over-abundance of feelings I’m having for a hunk of metal:
So, basically, I’m wondering: what the fuck? I have cried about this more times than I can count on one hand in the last 24 hours. For a little bit I wondered if I was suffering from depression, and it’s just coming out like this, but the truth is I’ve kind of always been incredibly weepy. I cry over the smallest things, especially if they are manufacture like a well-timed song or a commercial about forest creatures, but this seems extra bad. Something about this little machine is fucking me up hard.
The logician in me understands this: Opportunity is not a living creature, it does not have sentience, it doesn’t know what’s happened to it (at least I’m on board with those sentiments 99%). And yet…AND YET…I feel bad for it. I’m sad it’s all alone, I’m sad it doesn’t get to know how much it did for us, I’m sad it doesn’t get to come home. But maybe what I’m really sad about is what it appears to represent: the end of space exploration. Of course, this isn’t the case at all, NASA still exists, Curiosity is still out there, and we have a whole future ahead of us in which we’re bound to eventually get into some Star Trek shit. But seeing as we’ve entered the darkest timeline here on Earth, specifically in the USA, the future just doesn’t quite seem that bright, and the death of something so good from a time when things seemed possible (I was 16 when this guy shot off into space) just feels so heavy.
And maybe someday we’ll actually get to Mars, we’ll collect him, and we’ll set him up in the Smithsonian with a nice little plaque that humans can wonder over and appreciate. That’ll be a really nice day, and I guess it’s really something to look forward to, it’s just so hard to imagine as a possibility right now in the face of everything else our nation is going through. We seem so doomed to repeat ourselves, to stop dead, and–worst of all–to regress, and it’s terrifying and disheartening. But, on the other hand…
We’re not quite broken yet, are we? I mean, if we’re sad about it, at least we’re not apathetic. The 24 hour news cycle is so in your face that you can become numb to all the bullshit deluging out of it, but this little dude, sitting alone in a crater, covered in red dust, can still illicit real feelings (in me, at least). And maybe that’s a sign that the future’s not going to be so bad after all.