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Nick Wakeman

RIP 'Opportunity.' Thanks for the lessons

NASA announced today that after months of signaling with no response, the Mars rover Opportunity is dead. It was hit by a sand storm in August and never responded again.

So the intrepid rover is no more after 15 years slowly crawling along the surface of the Red Planet. It is remarkable that it lasted so long given that it was only planned to operate for 90 days. Granted, NASA expected and hope for more, but 15 years of more could only have been dreamed of.

The release by NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab that built Opportunity with help from industry partner Boeing and its twin Spirit gives a good overview of its accomplishments. Spirit landed on Mars on Jan. 4, 2004 and operated until 2011. Opportunity landed 20 days after Spirit did.

Others such as the Washington Post and New York Times are better at describing the scientific discoveries Opportunity made, as well as the engineering feats and ingenuity it took to keep the rover opportunity for so long.

For me, Opportunity is a reminder of what we can accomplish when we work together. It is what will get humans back on the Moon. And perhaps in 20 years we’ll see people on Mars. I hope they install a plaque to  commemorate Opportunity.

As we strive toward more achievements, it is also worth noting that Opportunity and Spirit were sent to Mars in the wake of two failures in 1999. As the Times describes, the Mars Climate Orbiter had a mix up between English and metric units.

It went too low and was pulled apart in the atmosphere because its orbit was too low. Three months later, the Mars Polar Lander apparently cut off its engines too soon and was destroyed on impact.

Those were embarrassments but also opportunities. Failures are going to happen as you push forward. Whether it is a mission to Mars or designing a new system or process, expect the failures. Embrace them. That’s the only way to achieve greatness.

Thanks for the lesson, Opportunity.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Feb 13, 2019 at 1:07 PM

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