A Mars rover Photo: Thinkstock
Thanks to the rovers, and more than six years of their hard work, Mars exploration is a bigger-than-ever focus for space programmes around the world. Supporters point out that the effort has cost only $1251 million, providing an impressive amount of scientific bang for the buck. That has encouraged mission planners everywhere. Another US rover, Curiosity, is scheduled to launch in 2011. In the coming decade, Russia will be collaborating with China and Finland and NASA with the European Space Agency to send rovers, stationary landers and vehicles capable of returning to Earth with Martian rocks and soil.
No-one can say when Spirit and Opportunity will finally roll to a much-deserved rest. All of us, though, will have benefited from their mission. “They have turned science fiction into fact and taken people to a place they will never have a chance to see in any other fashion in their lifetime,” says Matijevic. While deepening our understanding of the universe, these robots have set a sterling example of pioneering enterprise.
They’ve also taught us something about ourselves. In an era when we tend to focus on the shortcomings of our institutions and inventions, Spirit and Opportunity remind us that skilled and dedicated earthlings, working together, can still accomplish something cosmically great. More than 4000 people have done their part to help make the Mars Exploration Rover mission a success.
Says Squyres, “An important part of the rovers’ legacy, I hope, will be inspiration for the next generation to build spacecraft and leave the solar system to explore and discover.”
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