STEVE SQUYRES: This mission accomplished so much more than we wanted to. It's just mind-boggling to me.
We know more about Mars today than we knew two days ago. Both rovers together showed us that ancient Mars was much more habitable, was much more Earth-like than Mars is today. Mars today is a very cold, very dry, very desolate place where not much happens.
If you go to the ancient past, compelling evidence for hydrothermal activity, hot water bubbling through the rocks, steam vents, water coming up to the surface, volcanic explosions, lots of impact craters. It was a hot, violent, steamy place, and it was the kind of environment that would have been suitable for some kinds of microbes, all of it very different from the Mars of today. Different places that were visited by the two rovers different from one another, and it sort of hints at the complexity that the entire planet must have.
This was a great teaching tool. You know, it's been said many times that some of the most important scientific discoveries begin with the words, that's odd. You know, you see something totally unexpected, and then you follow it. To take that kind of immediacy of discovery and the true nature of science into the classroom, it was an opportunity to share with them science as it really happens.
I work with engineers today who were 18, 19-year-old Cornell undergraduates at the beginning of the mission and actually built hardware that's on the rovers. There's hardware on the rovers that was built by Cornell undergraduates. They put their initials on it and everything. I can see by the career path they've taken, the trajectory that their career has taken, that that opportunity early in the mission opened doors for them, at least in their own heads in terms of what they thought was possible for them.
I mean, if you had told me around the time we landed that Spirit and Opportunity were going to each accomplish one quarter or one tenth of what they ultimately did, I would have been thrilled. And it's because of the longevity of the vehicles. You know, Spirit lasted six some-odd years, Opportunity 14 and a half when we were designing it for 90 days. Mars just kept giving us new stuff, and so the payoff has been immensely greater than anything any of us ever, in our wildest dreams, conceived of.
We have changed the way in which people perceive Mars. Every morning, you can open up your computer and you can go to a public website, and you can see new vistas of Mars. They're always someplace new, and we're climbing mountains and we're descending into craters in these beautiful panoramas. And all of a sudden, Mars becomes a place that humans can relate to, that you can imagine being. You've got these machines that are there, that are built on very human scales, doing very human-like things.
The kind of exploration that we do with rovers is very, very accessible. It's easy to understand. These are robots. They're looking at rocks. It's not that complicated. And I always felt that the unique accessibility of this mission gave us both a special opportunity and a special obligation to really try to share it with the public, and we've tried very, very hard to do that.
And if part of the legacy of this mission is that a whole bunch of young people who saw that thought, that's really cool but I bet I could do better, if that thought hit them and it helped to push their career in a certain direction, that ultimately could be possibly the most important part of our legacy.
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Built to last 90 days, the Mars rover Opportunity ends its mission after 15 years. Steve Squyres, James A. Weeks Professor of Physical Sciences and Scientific Principal Investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover Project, speaks about the mission and its significance.