Recently, I saw a few optimistic blog posts and Tweets regarding the future of the oft-anthropomorphized Spirit Rover, saying that perhaps in the future, humans would set foot on Mars and come to visit and rescue the defunct spacecraft. In the distant future, the possibility exists that the noble little craft could end up in the Smithsonian institute, or at the very least, a museum on Mars – a fitting tribute to our own undying spirit to explore the galaxy.
Cute, I thought, but not practical – at least not in my lifetime.
However, my cynicism turned into a smile as I was reading the tale of Apollo 12, during its mission to the moon’s Ocean of Storms in November 1969. The story is recounted in Footprints in the Dust, an excellent novel in the People’s History of Spaceflight series, edited by Colin Burgess.
As astronaut Pete Conrad bounds out of the lunar module and becomes the third human to walk on the moon, his first observation back to Houston Mission Control is, “guess what I see sitting on the side of the crater?”
“The old Surveyor, right?” replies his colleague in the Intrepid, Al Bean.
“The old Surveyor. Yes, sir.”
Intrepid had landed right on the money – its goal was to land as close as possible to Surveyor 3, one of the many probes that had been sent to the Ocean of Storms. Later in the mission, Conrad happily bounces the mere 600 feet to the craft and greets it like an old friend. He and Bean proceed to remove pieces of the probe to return to Earth for analysis. Although Surveyor 3 was a little too big to bring home to the Smithsonian, it continues to wait patiently on the moon, knowing that to date, it is the only probe to have been sent to another world and receive a subsequent visit from its creators.
Perhaps one day, Spirit will receive a similar visit after all.