Feb 16, 2019: Opportunity

I’m not sure I’m enjoying 2019 that much. It seems to be killing off a lot of my favourites.

A couple of weeks ago, Jeremy Hardy died. A man who has been a part of my life for the better part of twenty five years, I’d say. When I say a part of my life, I mean his voice has come out of my radio box for all that time. He was one of those angry comedians you get nowadays. He was my favourite angry comedian. You’d know you were onto a good thing if you were listening to, say, The News Quiz, and they’d ask him a question and he’d talk for a bit, and then just keep going. A proper rant about how things were messed up and broken.

He was brilliant. Unless he was singing on I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, in which case he was terrible. Really, really terrible. So terrible that it became a running joke about how terrible he would be. Which then made it brilliant. But by god it was terrible.

He’ll be massively missed.

And then this week, the Opportunity Rover has died with some of the saddest final words ever. Having spent way, way longer than the ninety days it was expected to pootle about the red planet for (or, if you’re a conspiracy nut, a sandy part of Arizona somewhere) Opportunity finally stopped responding to commands. And so NASA have pulled the plug.

Oppy – as it’s affectionately know – said “My battery is low and it’s getting dark” as its final words. I mean, bloody hell. Talk about tugging at the heart strings. And you thought nothing could be more emotional than the fact that it sang happy birthday to itself on the anniversary of its landing. But no, it can have epic final words to die with.

Basically, a massive sandstorm blew into the area Opportunity was in, which blocked out the light from the sun and covered the solar panels in dust – or that’s what is assumed to have happened, anyway, and without the light to charge the battery…

Someone’s written a comic strip – a beautiful comic – about Oppy’s life, which ends with this scenario. And scientists at CERN thought that it was too upsetting to finish like that so have added an extra few panels in which, several decades in the future, Opportunity is found by aliens and brought back to Earth.

In my mind, though, we need to get to Mars and find Opportunity. Dust off the panels, recharge the batteries and tell the space tales of a brave astronaut and her loyal planetary rover. Because that’s the sort of feel good story this world needs right now.

But there’s a little part of me that’s worried that another storm will come along and blow all the dust off of Oppy, and it’ll slowly come back to live. And no-one at NASA will notice because they’ve all moved on. There’ll just be a lone blinking light, somewhere in Capcom, flickering on and off like that bit in Space Camp when they have to send morse code from the shuttle…