Ninety days. That’s all anyone expected to get out of Spirit and Opportunity, the twin rovers that first touched down on Mars in January of 2004. And yet, we are only just now saying goodbye to Opportunity, who lived for 90 days and then 5,262 more. The longevity of the Mars Exploration Rover project is a testament to the ingenuity, hard work and vision of the scientists, engineers, researchers and more who devoted themselves to expanding humanity’s knowledge of the universe. The rovers are also a crowning achievement for Cornell: The project’s principal investigator is Prof. Steven Squyres ’78 Ph.D. ’81, the James A. Weeks Professor of physical sciences.
Opportunity’s success is a shining example of the best Cornell can be. Its story serves as a reminder to all of us that even the craziest of ideas — for instance, strapping $400 million worth of scientific instruments to a rocket, blasting it tens of millions of miles into space, and landing perfectly on an alien world — can succeed, and succeed beyond our wildest imaginations.
We further note that Prof. Squyres, in the vein of his predecessors, Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman among them, has remained as committed to educating subsequent generations as ever, despite the demands of his research, and projects like the MER. The man who brought Mars to Earth need not be teaching an introductory astronomy course, and yet he still does. And truly, what is more Cornellian than continuing to educate and fascinate students of any and all disciplines, even while still doing groundbreaking work? The success of the Mars rover project should be a model for us all, but so should the actions of its P.I.
So Professor Squyres, cheers to a job well done. You and your team have given us another reason to be proud as Cornellians, and have made us hopeful for the next discoveries and innovations that await us.