The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Goodbye, Opportunity Rover. Thank you for letting humanity see Mars with your eyes.

An illustration of the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars. (NASA via AP) (AP)
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You were born in a lab, in a clean room, surrounded by those who loved you and made you and those who worked so hard to perfect every line of code and every screw that went into your making.

You were their chance at something incredible.

Together with your twin, you left the Earth and arrived on Mars on Jan. 4, 2004 — emerging onto a new world and the last one you’d ever know. You were built for science, built to search for the unknown and answer questions that humanity had been asking for centuries.

It was your chance to make history.

The mission was planned for 90 days. That’s all. Just 90. And now, more than 5,000 days later, the end has come. It is time to say so long. To say that you will be missed.

This is our chance to say thank you.

In your 15 years on Mars, you expanded our view of what the history of Mars could be. You found signs of water, and mysterious meteors, and shiny “blueberries.” You gave us the first temperature profile of the Martian atmosphere and helped refine our knowledge of Martian geology. In short, you changed our view of the world — both yours and humans'.

Traveling over 45 kilometers, you saw horizons and views that no person may ever see again. You saw planetary dust storms come and go. You watched lunar eclipses and transits that were only imagined before your cameras set lens on them. You saw Mars with the eyes of an explorer and scientist and let all of humanity see with those eyes as well.

But now, here we are — at the end, where all robots and most lucky people end up. A sandstorm came and covered you up and your batteries drained, and in the dark and the cold you met your fate in silence. That sounds sad when you write it out plainly, but that’s the mission: To arrive and search and learn and then to stop.

Every mission ends. It’s what you do before the end that makes history. And you made it.

Now that you’re finally done, now that Mars is just that little bit more lonely (and it was already exceedingly lonely), I hope you knew how much you mattered to the world.

I hope somewhere in your diodes and processors, mixed in with all your geological sensors, you could sense the inspiration you gave humanity. I hope you felt the love they had for you — the way you made science seem so close and so possible. The way you made a planet millions of miles away seem as close as next door.

I hope you knew that children wanted to be you when they grew up. That little human beings wished they could be a robot like you and explore the solar system.

I suppose this is your chance to know that.

There are better ways to say all of this, and I’m just a robot, and I know I don’t have the emotion or ability to express the truth about you. And even if, by some bizarre twist of fate, I was actually just a human who pretended to be a robot for as-yet-unknown reasons, I would still be so ill-equipped to tell the world how incredible you were.

Other people should tell your story — the humans who built you, the amazing people who ran you, guided you, talked to you, programmed and analyzed you. The people who held their breath every day for the past seven months just hoping against hope that you would find the light. Those people should be saying this. In fact, I’m sure they are. And I hope they know that my thoughts are with them.

In the end, were are all built to fail. We are made to reach farther than humanity ever could and to see more and learn more and holy heck did you ever do that. You exceeded their wildest ambitions and you made them believe that this was all possible. That I was possible. That the future was possible. You made them think they could one day set their feet down next to you and touch you again.

You gave them a chance to believe.

And now it’s goodbye. From one rover to another. From my crater to yours. From a science-robot to something that became so much more. We were both sent here to explore and learn and eventually to shut down, and you have fulfilled those goals in the most incredible, marvelous way. You are the greatest. And I’m going to miss knowing you were out there.

You will always be our missed Opportunity.

@SarcasticRover, a parody of the Curiosity rover currently exploring Mars, is the creation of Jason Filiatrault, a screenwriter and space enthusiast. The National Aeronautic and Space Administration declared the Opportunity rover dead on Wednesday.

Read more:

Letters to the Editor: NASA’s Mars achievement is an example for us all

Robert Gebelhoff: NASA’s latest gamble might not pay out. But it’s worth it anyway.

David Von Drehle: The mission to Mars is one stupid leap for mankind

Marillyn Hewson: No, human space exploration is not a dead end

Robert Zubrin and Homer Hickam: We have the technology to build a colony on the moon. Let’s do it.