NASA announced on Wednesday that the Mars rover Opportunity had not responded to months of messages and the mission is officially over. That news came an astounding 15 years after completing its initial 90-day mission.
Opportunity provided some of the first and best evidence that Mars was once home to liquid water and could have supported life. More recently, Mars rovers have become Twitter personalities. And Opportunity’s demise has been met with obits and tributes.
With all the emotion around the end of Opportunity, we got curious about the people who spend years of their careers on these indefinitely extended missions.
Lauren Edgar is a Research Geologist at the USGS Astrogeology Science Center and she leads Geology and Mineralogy efforts at the Mars Science Lab.
When Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars, she was already fascinated by space exploration but had no idea she would get to work with the robots.
“I remember watching the landing when I was a college freshman,” she said. “I had a picture of Victoria crater taped to my dorm room wall.”
By the time she joined the mission in 2007, the senior scientists had already gotten what they wanted out of Opportunity. That allowed early-career scientists like Edgar to have a say in what the robot did next.
“That was a very advantageous time to come on,” she said. “I certainly never expected it to last for 15 years. It was a big part of the work they did for my PhD thesis.”
Her favorite moment of the mission was the day the rover arrived at Marathon Valley.
“I was in charge of commanding the navigation cameras to take him or end of drive mosaic,” she said. “It was essentially the photo finish of this marathon distance -- the first time we've driven that far on another planet.”
Asked whether she would travel to Mars if given the chance, Edgar said “absolutely.”
“I look forward to the day that we visit Meridiani planum as a Martian monument,” she said. “Can you imagine standing there and seeing this rover that you've worked with and known for so long? It would be pretty epic.”
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