The Luncheon Society had a fantastic gathering in Los Angeles with our friend John Callas who served as The Project Manager for the Mars Rover Program, both Spirit and Opportunity. Both rovers landed in 2004 and were only supposed to last for 90 SOLs (Martian days) or roughly 92 Earth days. However, Spirit lasted on the Martian surface nearly 7 years until 2010 when the rover became irrevocably stuck in soft sand (the equivalent to Martian quicksand) but Opportunity stayed on the job for nearly 15 years and got into trouble during a major planetwide sandstorm that put “Oppy” into a deep freeze since it was power by solar panels. After countless attempt to rouse the remaining rover proved fruitless, the mission ended only a few short months ago.
Now NASA/JPL’s Rover Curiosity is wandering the Martian surface alone, but not for long. The Mars 2020 rover will be launched soon and the cool thing about that next rover is that it will come with a drone helicopter that will allows it to wander around the surface of the planet and go off into great distances beyond the original landing site. Mars is extraordinarily difficult to land on-far more so than the moon because the distance involved and the minuscule atmosphere, which is roughly 1% of what is found on earth.
Before Spirit and Opportunity landed in early 2004 not much was known about Mars because NASA’s Viking landers of the 1970’s could not find anything that might equate to life –as we knew it back then. However, planetary scientists kept looking at the northern regions of the planet and noticed how smooth the surface appeared—a hint that there might have been ancient oceans billions of years ago.
What a Wild Ride