The Spirit of Mars

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
What lies outside of the grasp of our planet's hands? Who will be the first among us to make the plunge?

A little story I threw together for a project back in first year.

Submitted: January 29, 2017

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Submitted: January 29, 2017

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The Spirit of Mars

This was the day. This was the day that I finally got to begin my journey to the great emptiness that lies beyond this planet that my creators call home. Countless hours of work have come together in a collaborative effort to bring me into existence; countless more have been spent trying to assemble a vehicle and a method in which to carry me to my destination. They call me Spirit, I am one of NASA’s first rovers and I am destined to live out my days on a desolate rock so far from Earth that it is but a dot in the sky.

Mars was the destination, my mission is to explore and learn about the surface as well as to report on any astronomical events that I witness. I will operate for ninety sols, each sol translating to twenty four hours and thirty seven minutes on Earth. NASA has built me a multi stage rocket that will hopefully bring me from the life bearing exterior of one planet to the cold, desert like exterior of another.

The stage one engines ignited, launching my craft into the air. Soon after came the solid rocket motors, nine rockets firing in sets of threes, furthering the speed of the ascent. Upon leaving the atmosphere our payload detaches to save weight, followed by the ignition of the stage two and three engines. For when I land I myself am equipped with cameras on a mobile neck, arms for the examination of rocks and solar panels to ensure I can effectively travel during my stay. The flight to Mars took two thirds of a year in which I slowly watched the universe go by. As the giant red orb slowly became larger in the sky I knew my mission would be far grander than what I see from the shuttle.

Crossing the threshold into the approach phase, my ship is currently three and a half thousand kilometers from the Martian core. Final trajectory corrections are made to assure that my craft enters the atmosphere on a perfect trajectory as well as any adjustments needed to keep me at maximum efficiency when communicating with Earth. An odd sense of anxiety begins to form within me. Up until this point I had seen nothing more than a small sliver of Earth, the interior of my shuttle and the stretching blackness of space; soon I would disembark onto an unknown land, one that I have been purpose built to investigate.

Hitting the Martian atmosphere at over nineteen thousand kilometers an hour, we begin our descent into what will become my new home for the coming ninety sols of operation. Our shell burned through the newfound pressure as it deflected the heat away from my far more delicate hull. The ship rattled and shook as we lost immense amounts of speed just from the friction of flying through the air. After four minutes of intense struggle through the atmosphere the ship lost about seventeen thousand kilometers an hour, after months of travel through weightlessness it is an odd sensation to feel any exertion at all; this is heightened when our parachute deploys, signalling the final stages before I arrive on the red planet. The heat shield that had been so instrumental at protecting myself is no longer needed and removes itself from the landing vessel. With a loud rush of wind my crate releases from the back shell and I dangle by a bridle still attached to the metal above me. The rope slowly extends as I make my way further and further away from the edge of the atmosphere and rapidly closer to the surface. Massive airbags deploy before I slam into the surface, preparing my landing to be safe no matter what happens upon initial impact. At around thirty meters I detach from the parachute and free fall the remaining distance.

With a tremendous thud the airbags impact the surface and I am sent flying into the air. Pitching and yawing through the air I begin to wonder whether or not I will safely make it to the actual surface or whether my whole existence will stop right here. My speculations are soon answered as the craft slows and eventually fully halts, the velocity that had been started an immense distance and time ago finally comes to a rest. The airbags retract around me, my lander petals lower and my camera is raised to provide vision to both me and the humans who will soon be receiving my photos. I transmit my initial status update as well as a few photos to the Mars Odyssey orbiter that is circling the planet as I begin communications with Earth via low-gain X-band antenna, letting them know that I’ve arrived and I am ready, willing and able to perform my job.

Mars is empty, there is nothing but rocks and dust; the emptiness is fantastically terrifying. All previously unexplored territory, it will be my duty to traverse the landscape so the humans back on Earth will…. Well to be honest I have no idea what they are going to do with my information. I know exactly what I am to do, yet what they plan on doing with the information is not for me to worry over. It is night time now, my mission begins with the rise of the sun once my panels have absorbed enough sunlight to power my wheels.

The sun rises on my first sol of operation and I begin my adventure. The humans from NASA guide my trek, sending me to various locations to take photographs, constantly requesting status updates on both myself and the state of the planet. Progress is slow but I am making my way to the Bonneville Crater, at which point I will survey the area. If everything goes according to plan I should have a few days at Bonneville Crater to complete some observations before my mission timeline is complete, what comes after that is a complete mystery to me. I hope I get to go back and explore Earth.

It has been thirty three sols into my mission and I’ve been instructed to pick up a rock and brush it clean, I do not understand why. The rock under the dirt is just more rock, why look at it? I have drilled a hole into the rock and NASA is delighted, if nothing else at least they are pleased with my work. After a few sols of examining specific rocks, NASA has finally let me continue on towards the craters, the best part? They’re letting me guide myself! Control has been dropped and coordinates have been programmed into my guidance system, coupled with my onboard hazard avoidance system and I am completely autonomous for the first time!

After many sols of gathering information on the x-ray and thermal emissions NASA wants me to dig a small trench with my wheel and study what is just below the surface. I can do that. I spun an area clean with my wheel, did a thermal emission observation and then probed the soil with my arms, I sent all the information back to the blue planet.

I have started seeing small dust tornados on the surface, the humans are extremely intrigued by this show of wind and particle movement and have made me take a myriad of photos and analysis. A few sols later they had me brush even more rocks. Why? Did I not already brush a rock back on sol thirty three? Two thirds of my mission has been complete, I have brushed rocks, taken photos and measured heat signatures. I wonder what kind of rocks I could brush back on Earth. The rim of the Bonneville Crater is starting to show on the horizon, I must be getting close to the end of my mission.

I have reached the edge of the crater! On top of the photos requested of the crater, NASA is having me take a photo of the lander from which I came from, it is not terribly far, just over three hundred meters. It absolutely pales in comparison to the distance that my shuttle travelled to bring me here but I am still proud of myself for making it as far as I have. Tonight I will be taking pictures of the Orion Constellation via long exposure shots. I suppose it is similar to photos of Mars but why would they want a picture of stars?

I found life! No, that was a joke. I brushed more rocks today.

My goals in the Bonneville Crater are much the same as they were outside of it. I take photos, I measure thermal outputs and, my favorite, I brush rocks. Though today it did not work quite as well as it has in the past, my drill did not fully extend into a rock as it had initially planned. Seventy nine sols have passed, perhaps I am getting old.

I have watched the sun rise and set eighty seven times, I am leaving the Bonneville Crater in what is surely one of my last days of operation. As of yet I do not have instructions for post sol ninety though I trust in NASA to have something planned for me, they always do. The drive out was difficult, the walls were a struggle and the land itself was pocked with craters. Nothing that will stop me though, I have a job to complete.

Sol ninety one is upon me, NASA has decided to extend my mission, I am not sure for how long. They are sending me towards the Missoula Crater, I wonder if it is similar to the Bonneville Crater? Will I brush more rocks? I suppose there is not much else that I can do. Maybe for my next Mars campaign they will gear me with better equipment so I can more than brush and take photos; not that I really mind doing either, in fact it is my entire existence. NASA has a flight software update for me, I get to tuck myself away behind a rock and sleep for 4 entire sols! A break well deserved if I may say so myself.

The update led to better navigation software, now I can easily make my own way around the planet with almost no need for interference from Earth! I am not sure if I should be elated at the increased freedom or concerned that they are giving it to me post end of mission timeline. Either way, I get to explore more of Mars while being even more efficient, happy sols!

It has been hundreds of sols, I am still here, roving around, examining the surface and reporting back to Earth. The winter has made me feel tired, I do not have the same energy outputs as I did when the sun directly heated my solar panels. A minor inconvenience really, I must make NASA proud and continue my mission no matter what. I have had to clean my panels a few times due to dust coverage from storms; it is like brushing rocks, but brushing myself!

One of my wheels has stopped functioning. I have been rather impeded by this lack of mobility but who really needs six wheels anyways? Certainly not this rover. NASA has kept me stationary on a ridge in an effort to observe the changes that happen to the surface over extended periods of time. It is not so bad, though I miss brushing rocks. They gave me another update, even better software for even more exploration! Once they finally let me drive around again they were curious about the soil my dead wheel was uncovering behind me, I have spent a few sols looking at this soil just below the surface.

Sol one thousand eight hundred and ninety two, I think I have failed NASA. While continuing my usual exploration I ran into quite a soft spot on the planets dusty surface; my wheels cannot find any traction in this ground. My panels are slowly covering with dust, my power levels fade each sol. NASA has me sending photos and information back but I am not sure how much longer I can sustain this. I just hope that…


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