Last week marked the anniversaries of the Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia accidents. Those old enough to remember one or more of those tragedies recall the feelings of shock and sadness. Eventually we moved on, however, recommitting ourselves to the noble endeavor of manned space exploration.
But what if a spacecraft vanished without a trace? And what if, decades later, you had the chance to solve a mystery that most had given up on, even if they hadn’t forgotten? That’s the challenge facing 14-year-old Amber Jacobsen:
There was an ocean of data from the Ares missions and the subsequent exploration and settlement of the planet…surely there was some clue, something that had been missed. She looked up at the portraits again. What if it was right in front of everyone, and they couldn’t see it, because they were still thinking like Earthers?
But shewasn’t an Earther. She looked around the cabin at the memorials to the Ares III crew. Mars was her world, the only one she’d ever known. If something had been missed, maybe she could see it. Why shouldn’t she be the one to find the truth? “I’ll do it.”
“What’s that?” Aaron had drifted over to the other side of the cabin.
“Find out what happened. You know, figure it out. I’m gonna do it.”
Spirit got stuck in sand and hasn’t communicated since March of last year, but there’s hope that the arrival of Spring may provide a revival of sorts. Opportunity, however, is still going strong–not bad for being over 1300 “sols past warranty”. Better yet, we can hope for even more from the next generation rover scheduled to launch later this year, nicknamed Curiosity.
While robotic craft continue to play an important part in space exploration, hopefully their most important role will be paving the way for human exploration and permanent settlement.