Opportunity Mars Rover, Please Phone Home

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Oppy at Solander Point in August 2013

The Opportunity rover landed on Mars fifteen Earth calendar years ago today. It drove more than 45 km across the Red Planet’s cold desert landscape and worked fine until 10 June last year. A planetwide dust storm then covered the rover’s solar panels with dirt, cutting off its power supply, and it hasn’t been heard from since. Strong winds may one day remove that dust and allow Oppy to phone home again.

Either way, 14½ years of operation and the longest trek any off-planet vehicle has ever made are epochal achievements. Huge kudos to the Mars Exploration Rover team! And let’s not forget the Spirit rover that operated on Mars for a very respectable 6 Earth years, or the Curiosity rover that has so far been active for 6½ and is going strong, or the Mars 2020 rover whose launch is planned for July or August next year.

Opportunity Mars Rover Still Working After Fourteen Years

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Perseverance Valley, Mars, June 2017. Probable fossil water erosion gully right.

The Opportunity rover landed on Mars fourteen Earth calendar years ago today, and it still works fine after driving over 45 km! This is the farthest any off-planet vehicle has gone so far. Oppy’s mate Spirit was mobile on the Red Planet for over five years and then functioned as a stationary science platform for another year before getting killed off by a Martian winter it couldn’t avoid. Amazing engineering that keeps working year after year without a technician so much as touching it.

At the moment Oppy continues to explore the western rim of Endeavour crater, where it’s spent several years. It recently got the dust blown off its solar panels by a Mars winter storm. Check out the project’s web site and the Red Planet Report for news!

Opportunity Mars Rover Still Working After Thirteen Years

The Opportunity rover landed on Mars thirteen Earth calendar years ago today, and it still works fine after driving ~44 km! This is the farthest any off-planet vehicle has gone so far. Oppy’s mate Spirit was mobile on the Red Planet for over five years and then functioned as a stationary science platform for another year before getting killed off by a Martian winter it couldn’t avoid. Amazing engineering that keeps working year after year without a technician so much as touching it.

At the moment Oppy continues to explore the western rim of Endeavour crater, where it’s spent several years. Check out the project’s web site and the Red Planet Report for news!

Opportunity Mars Rover Still Working After Twelve Years

The Opportunity rover landed on Mars twelve Earth calendar years ago today, and it still works fine after driving ~43 km! This is the farthest any off-planet vehicle has gone so far. Oppy’s mate Spirit was mobile on the Red Planet for over five years and then functioned as a stationary science platform for another year before getting killed off by a Martian winter it couldn’t avoid. Amazing engineering that keeps working year after year without a technician so much as touching it.

At the moment Oppy is still exploring the rim of Endeavour crater, where it’s spent several years. It’s in Marathon Valley, getting ready to do some rock abrasion. Check out the project’s web site and the Red Planet Report for news!

Opportunity Mars Rover Still Working After Eleven Years

The Opportunity rover landed on Mars eleven Earth calendar years ago today, and it still works fine after driving ~42 km! This is the farthest any off-planet vehicle has gone so far. Oppy’s mate Spirit was mobile on the Red Planet for over five years and then functioned as a stationary science platform for another year before getting killed off by a Martian winter it couldn’t avoid. Amazing engineering that keeps working year after year without a technician so much as touching it.

At the moment Oppy is still exploring the rim of Endeavour crater, where it’s spent several years. The rover recently broke its altitude record when scaling the high part of the rim known as Cape Tribulation. It is now headed towards a promising geological site known as “Marathon Valley” — because Oppy has almost run a marathon by now. Check out the project’s web site for news!

Jules Verne at Disneyland

Though I really enjoyed my late 70s childhood visits to Disneyland and Disneyworld, I am no friend of disnification, and I’ve always seen the Paris Disneyland as a bit of a joke. But my mom wanted to treat my kids to a visit last week, and so I came along too.

The Paris Disneyland has five sections. The US small-town nostalgia section full of Disney memorabilia shops, the faux-16th century fairytale section, the adventure movie section and the wild west section didn’t do very much for me – though the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is admittedly hugely atmospheric, and the Small World ride provided a strongly hallucinogenic (though not altogether pleasurable) experience.

The Nautilus and the moon cannon
The Nautilus and the moon cannon

The best part of Paris Disneyland is instead the retro-futuristic section, because it’s the least disnified one, and because its design largely builds upon the characteristic settings and illustrations of sometime Parisian Jules Verne’s novels. We went on board the Nautilus and we got shot out of the moon cannon onto the Space Mountain 2 roller coaster – where the security seat couldn’t quite accommodate me, so I hurt my shoulders pretty badly in addition to being scared witless.

The kids though, 15 and 10, were very happy with it all.

See also Jules Verne’s awesome grave monument.

Parked Vernian dirigible
Parked Vernian dirigible

Opportunity Mars Rover Still Working After Nine Years

The wonderful Curiosity rover on Mars has been much in the news lately, but let’s not forget about the previous rover generation! Opportunity landed on Mars nine Earth calendar years ago today on 25 January, and it still works fine. Its mate Spirit was mobile on the Red Planet for over five years and then functioned as a stationary science platform for another year before getting killed off by a Martian winter it couldn’t avoid. Amazing engineering that keeps working year after year without a technician so much as touching it.

Oppy is still on the rim of Endeavour crater, the area where it’s spent the past year, and is currently taking measurements at a spot called Copper Cliff. Check out the project’s web site for news! And meanwhile, elsewhere on Mars, Curiosity’s hammer drill is being prepared for its first outing…

Scifi, Rocketry and Occult Silliness

Jack Parsons (1914-52) was a rocketry pioneer, a science fiction fan and a deeply committed occult follower of the aged Aleister Crowley. I recently read the 2004 edition of John Carter’s biography of the man, Sex and Rockets. The Occult World of Jack Parsons.

Despite such promising material, it’s not a very engaging or well-written book. It’s largely about rocketry and occultism, but neither field is contextualised very well. There’s lots of detail but not much in the way of a bigger picture. And Carter equivocates in his attitude to occultism. Sometimes he seems to believe in it, sometimes he makes fun of it, but he misses no opportunity to reproduce swaths of ceremonial babblings dreamed up by Crowley and Parsons. I’m not interested in what spells they chanted or whom they buggered (“strictly for magical reasons, my dear, I promise”). I want to know what they thought it would accomplish and what other people thought about them for it.

Occultism is exceptionally silly. Picture a robed Jack Parsons chanting Crowleyan invocations and masturbating onto a piece of parchment for several days while L. Ron Hubbard (as occult secretary) watches, takes notes and occasionally fakes cryptic messages From Beyond.

Hubbard was a con man. Eight months into his acquaintance with Parsons, the future founder of Scientology tired of humouring Parsons’s supernatural beliefs and disappeared with his host’s considerable savings and young girlfriend, the future Mrs. Hubbard.

This phrase from Parsons’s account of a vision he had in 1948 shows that he’d been reading Lovecraft: ”… went into the sunset … and into the night past accursed and desolate places and cyclopean ruins, and so came at last to the City of Chorazin. And there a great tower of Black Basalt was raised, that was part of a castle whose further battlements ruled over the gulf of stars.”

All in all Parsons comes across as a sad figure who bloomed early as a brilliant engineer and then got mired in occult confusion and deception.

Curiosity Rover Landed OK On Mars

The Curiosity rover / Mars Science Laboratory has landed safely on Mars and is returning data! So now we have two rovers on Mars again, Opportunity and a new one of unprecendented size and instrument sophistication. Curiosity has a laser gun that allows it to measure emission spectra at a distance, an instrument that allows it to identify minerals directly without inference via their elemental composition, and more. Looking forward to new discoveries!

Oldest Human-Made Object in Space

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The recent launch of the Curiosity Mars rover has quietly broken the record for oldest human-made object in space, and instantly pulled numismatics, the study of coinage, into the Space Age.

Prior to the launch, the oldest human-made object in space was the Vanguard 1 satellite, which was launched in 1958 and operated until 1964. Now it is a coin!

American geologists have long used copper Lincoln pennies as scale indicators in photographs. All the Mars rover missions are geology projects conducted at a distance. And so, as a homage to professional geology tradition, a 1909 one-cent coin is attached to Curiosity’s camera calibration target.

Being over a hundred years old, the coin is from a time sufficiently far from the present that industrial and conflict archaeologists already routinely excavate and document its remains. As far as I know, this is the first time that an antique is launched into space (disregarding stuff astronauts have brought into orbit and then back home again).

Update 15 Feb: Long-time Aard regular Lassi Hippeläinen points out that in 1999, some cremated remains of planetary geologist Eugene Shoemaker were sent to the Moon, and he was born in 1928. In my opinion, burnt human bones do qualify as artefacts, but they were made at cremation, not when Shoemaker’s original baby skeleton formed.