Onward, Spirit and Opportunity!

The touching legacy of two indefatigable robots

Deborah Barchi



I am in love with two robots.

Recently, I watched an engrossing new documentary entitled Goodnight, Oppy. Watching the film, I learned about a NASA mission, begun in 2003 that ended just a few years ago in 2018.

The heroes of the story were two remarkable robots named Spirit and Opportunity (aka Oppy).

The “sister” robots were sent on a perilous journey to Mars nearly twenty years ago. Once there, their mission was to roam the harsh surface of the red planet, gathering data, and reporting back daily on their discoveries.

Spirit and Opportunity were only expected to carry on their challenging work for approximately 90 days. After that time it was widely believed by the team of scientists and engineers who had created and launched them that their reliability and vital functions would break down.

Instead the feisty robots went on and on, facing horrific conditions and challenges month after month, and year after year, faithfully sending back new and astonishing data to their partners on Earth.

And their partners, the team of scientists and engineers at NASA, truly came not just to respect, but to deeply and emotionally connect with Spirit and Opportunity.

We don’t usually think of scientists or engineers as coming to love their robotic creations; but friendship and affection for these special robots flourished and spread at NASA with each passing, remarkable year of the project.

I defy anyone not to be moved by Oppy’s last transmission to her NASA team, who had also become her devoted friends. Or not to be touched by the transmission of her scarred and battered “selfie” sent to her team on earth.

I started by saying I am in love with two robots. Really what I love about Spirit and Opportunity is their unflinching commitment to fulfill their life’s work, long after anyone believed they could keep going.

I admire dedication, in all its myriad forms. Now whenever I look up at the dusty red planet in the night sky, I will think of Spirit and Opportunity up there. Their important work may have finally come to an end, but their significance and legacy live on.

To learn more about the work of Spirit and Opportunity, follow this link from Cornell University.



Deborah Barchi

Deborah Barchi has recently retired from her career as a librarian and now has time to read, explore nature, and write poetry and essays.