Comments on The Remarkable Spirit Rover

By John Callas

Below are remarks made by Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Spirit Celebration on July 19, 2011.

Artist's concept of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover
Artist’s concept of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“We are here today to celebrate this great triumph of exploration, the incredible mission of this Mars rover. As bittersweet as the conclusion of Spirit’s time on Mars is for each of us, our job was to get to this day. To wear these rovers out, to leave behind no unutilized capability on the surface of Mars. For Spirit, we have done that.

What is truly remarkable is how much durability and capability Spirit had. These rovers were designed for only 90 days on the surface and one kilometer of driving distance. On her last day, Spirit had operated for 2210 Martian days, drove over 7730 meters and returned over 124 thousand images.

But it is not how long this rover lasted or how far she had driven, but how much exploration and scientific discovery she has accomplished. Spirit escaped the volcanic plains of Gusev Crater, mountaineer-ed up the Columbia Hills, survived three cold, dark Martian winters and two rover-killing dust storms, and surmounted debilitating hardware malfunctions. But out of this adversity, she made the most striking scientific discoveries that have forever changed our understanding of the Red Planet.

With the rovers originally designed only for a limited stay in the relatively comfortable environment of the Martian summer, the many years of extended operation meant these vehicles operate most of their time in the extreme environments of frigid temperatures and dark skies, well outside of their original design limits. The longevity and productivity of these rovers under such severe environmental conditions speak to the talent and dedication of the people, who designed, built, tested and operated these vehicles.

Spirit’s discoveries have changed our understanding of the Red Planet. We know now that Mars was not always a cold, dry and barren planet. That at one time liquid water flowed on it surface, sustained by a thicker atmosphere and warmer temperatures. At least, kilometer-scale lakes persisted in places. And that there were even sources of energy, hydrothermal systems, that could have supported life in this earlier habitable world.

We can’t do the impossible, make these machines operate forever. But, we have come as close to that as humans can. Spirit’s very accomplished exploration of Mars has rewritten the textbooks about the planet. Further, this rover has changed our understanding of ourselves and of our place in the Universe and approached questions of, are we alone and what is the future of this world?

But, beyond all the exploration and scientific discovery, Spirit has also given us a great intangible. Mars is no longer this distant, alien world. It is now our neighborhood. We go to work on Mars everyday.

But, let’s also remember that Spirit’s great accomplishments did not come at the expense of some vanquished foe or by outscoring some opponent. Spirit did this, we did this - to explore, to discover, to learn - for the benefit of all humankind. In that respect, these rovers represent the highest aspiration of our species.

Well done little rover. Sleep in peace. And, congratulations to you all. Thank you very much.”

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    14 Responses to “Comments on The Remarkable Spirit Rover”

  1. Sal Says:
    July 20th, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    Wow. Well done indeed.

    I would love it if some day when we send a manned mission to Mars if we could go find Spirit and make some repairs and get her up and running again. I am confident that with a few quick repairs, and some upgrades, she could do a whole lot more!

  2. Margaret Says:
    July 20th, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Farewell, little Spirit. You did an outstanding job.

  3. Eagle Says:
    July 20th, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    Spirit is one of the greatest achievements in human technology! Thanks for the awesome learning experience. I can’t wait for Mankind to visit our Close neighbor.

  4. Diane Wilson Says:
    July 20th, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Spirit has done what we have dreamed of doing and we will continue to learn from her success for decades. She has shown us the way of the future for the survival on another world.

  5. Paul Goodman Says:
    July 20th, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Until we meet again. With more answers, and even more questions. Thank you.

  6. Andrew Says:
    July 20th, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Well said. Huge respect for everyone involved.
    Operating these Rovers must be every robotics engineer’s dream.

    To me, the most wonderful aspect of the project is that the Rovers lasted for so long after their estimated 90 days. It’s almost as if fate is gently pushing the Administration in the right direction whilst giving the engineers who have dedicated their professional lives to building and operating machines like Spirit and Opportunity as long a tenure as possible.

    The writing on the wall clearly says ‘Mars is a big part of the future’.
    NASA should shout from the rooftops that every single day, we’re working on Mars… People need to be reminded of how insanely cool that is!

    I liked the passage about the Rovers’ triumph not coming at the expense of some vanquished foe… Let’s hope that a higher percentage of treasury funds get spent on humankind’s highest aspiration and greatest endeavors in Space, as opposed to the hugely expensive upkeep of vast military assets.
    This reminds me of a point made by Carl Sagan:

    ‘For me, the most ironic token of that moment in history is the plaque signed by President Richard M. Nixon that Apollo 11 took to the Moon. It reads: “We came in peace for all mankind.” As the US was dropping 7 megatons of conventional explosives on small nations in Southeast Asia, we congratulated ourselves on our humanity: We would harm no one on a lifeless rock.’
    - Carl Sagan, ‘Pale Blue Dot’.

    The celebration of Trailblazing missions like those of Spirit & Opportunity may be exactly what it’ll take to convince the people holding the purse strings.

  7. humberto barros Says:
    July 20th, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    well done Nasa. Congratulations to you all!

  8. Eric Says:
    July 20th, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    A remarkable piece of machinery. We humans did something right. And now our government wants to put the breaks on space exploration. Sad day, with the last shuttle landing tomorrow. Put’s tears in my eyes. I hope we don’t wait to long to continue Americas exploration in space. Thank you NASA and everyone that worked so damn hard to bring us the images from Hubble and the knowledge we learned.

  9. Antonio Gomez Says:
    July 20th, 2011 at 8:18 pm

    Well done, yes. A nod to all of Spirit’s human parents, counselors, teachers, doctors, nurses, brothers, sisters. The entire family of man is on Mars thanks to you good people.

  10. Comments on The Remarkable Spirit Rover | JPL Blog | Hometown Pasadena | Says:
    July 21st, 2011 at 8:11 am

    [...] Read on Blog’s site » [...]

  11. Raúl Ponce de León Says:
    August 9th, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Well done, great job!!!

  12. Christie Jacobs Says:
    August 18th, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    Spirit need spares,that’s all !

  13. Final words for Spirit « rocketscientistsays Says:
    September 15th, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    [...] got me to think about what was said in the final chapter of Spirit. Well, here’s the speech of John Callas, MER Project Manager at the Spirit Celebration back in [...]

  14. AM Says:
    November 26th, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    some accomplishment indeed, congrats one and all….
    retrieving Spirit is still a priceless afterthought, measuring wear and tear on components, invaluable for future quality design assembyl controls on vehicles bound for Mars….

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