On Monday November 10th, 2008 NASA lost contact with the Mars Phoenix Lander. As Mars enters it’s winter, sunlight faded to the point where the Phoenix lander was no longer able to recharge it’s batteries. The lander made many important discoveries, but frankly one of the things it did the most was to put a human face on space exploration via it’s frequent updates on Twitter.
Of course, intellectually we know the real lander wasn’t doing the actual tweets. That credit goes to the amazing Veronica McGregor at JPL. But the twitter feed was managed in such a way that we could really feel like the real Phoenix lander itself was sending these messages. Over 38,000 people followed the lander, putting it among the true Twitter elite. Do you recall when we all first found out about ice on Mars? It wasn’t through a NASA press release, newspaper, or the evening news. No, the folks who first found out were the ones who followed the lander on a social networking site. How geekily cool is that?
Wired magazine held a contest of sorts for appropriate epitaphs, and posted them on their site. The winner was veni, vidi, fodi (I came, I saw, I dug) but there were many many more well worth reading. Some were funny, some inspiring, and many emotionally touching. Gizmodo is carrying the final message from the Pheonix lander on it’s site. Very good, includes much information, including that while the lander could wake up when the winter season is over, that won’t be until our spring of 2010. After being encased in darkness and ice for that long, starting back up is highly unlikely. Still, the @MarsRovers were only supposed to last a few months, and they are still going after 5 years so anything is possible. Hope springs eternal.
The level of communication brought about through sites, such as Twitter, means that anyone, from you or I to a probe on another planet can make their voice heard around the world. No, scratch that. Around the universe.
My favorite epitaph was the following quote from James T. Kirk.
“…of all the souls I have known, his was the most… human.”