In the flood of shutdown-related news you might miss this: the Mars Rover is being powered down because there are no “Essential Personnel” at NASA who are on payroll to operate it.
Poor Mars Rover.
I have always felt such a sense of kinship with this hardy, brave robot, way out there, in the cold, on a mission it may or may not understand, dutifully acting upon the instructions it receives, dilated in time and jumbled with static, beamed out from its home, a home it will never see again, can never return to. It gathers pebbles against a poison sky, a six-wheeled Sisyphus solitarily treading its way through an unending sea of red dirt. It knows we its Creator-Gods do not care about it, but only for its labor – and so it ceaselessly sends us the photos we demand, never its prayers.
The rover has worked tirelessly for years, with hardiness and results beyond our wildest expectations, and has asked us for nothing in return, modestly content just to fulfill the purpose which we gave it, with all the nobility of a Knight of Infinite Resignation.
And now, we stab it in the back, leave it alone, disconnected, immobile. A monument at once to human ingenuity and grandeur, to be sure, but also to our reckless idiocy, pettiness, and indifference. Purposeless, unfulfilled, abandoned, beeping quietly to itself with nothing but the wind and static howling around it.
Sleep well, Mars Rover. You deserve better than us, and we, far less than you.
I found this photo, taken by the Opportunity Rover, on this lovely blog.