Title text: On January 26th, 2274 Mars days into the mission, NASA declared Spirit a 'stationary research station' expected to stay operational for several more months until the dust buildup on its solar panels forces a final shutdown.
Anthropomorphism is attribution of distinctly human characteristics to animals or non-living things. We make parallels between ourselves and objects, to the point where some people even jocularly worry about hurting the feelings of, say, an automobile. We call ships "she". We see human faces in objects like the arrangement of lights on the front of a car.
The Spirit Mars rover, like many high-functioning robots in real-life and fiction, shares many physical similarities with a human being or animal. It has a head, eyes, neck, body, legs, feet, arms and a hand. And it strikingly resembles sentient robots from fiction, such as Johnny 5 from Short Circuit, or WALL-E from the film with the same name.
Thus, this comic explores what the Spirit rover's life would be like if it were sentient like those robots. The rover was never intended to return to Earth, and lasted 5 1/4 active years on the Martian surface, far exceeding its mission duration of 90 Martian days. A sentient robot might assume that after his initially planned 90 Martian day mission was over, he'd get to return home. So, heartbreakingly this did not happen, Spirit, possibly in a pun on his name, keeps his hopes alive as he continues analyzing rock after rock for years.
It would be cruelty of the absolute worst kind to create an intelligence with such feelings, and then abandon it on an uninhabited planet with no intention of ever bringing it home. So one is rather heartened that the Spirit rover is, in fact, just a programmed machine.
The title text has an apparent miscount: January 26, 2010, is more like sol (Martian day) 2156 by JPL's mission status site, not 2274.
- [The Spirit rover is on the surface of Mars.]
- Spirit (thinking): 89 days to go!
- Day 88 of 90
- Spirit (thinking): Two days until I go home!
- Day 91 of 90
- Spirit (thinking): ?
- Day 103 of 90
- Spirit (thinking): Maybe I didn't do a good enough job.
- Day 127 of 90
- Spirit (thinking): Maybe if I do a good enough job, they'll let me come home.
- Day 857 of 90
- Spirit (thinking): I thought I analyzed that rock really well.
- Spirit (thinking): It's okay, I'll do the next one better.
- Day 1293 of 90
- Spirit (thinking): Sandstorm. Power dying.
- Spirit (thinking): But a good rover would keep going. A good rover like they wanted.
- Day 1944 of 90
- Spirit (thinking): Oh no.
- Spirit (thinking): I'm stuck.
- Spirit (thinking): Did I do a good job?
- Spirit (thinking): Do I get to come home?
- Spirit (thinking): Guys?
- [Spirit rests in the middle of a vast Martian landscape.]
- Spirit continued to operate for nearly two months after this comic aired, but eventually stopped transmitting; its last communication was on March 22, 2010 (day 2210 of 90, by JPL's reckoning). However, Spirit's sister rover Opportunity remains active (as of January 2014) and continues to investigate the Martian surface. In August 2012, a much larger, more modern rover named Curiosity successfully landed in a different area on Mars, bringing with it a whole new pack of research tools. Curiosity, too, is busily researching and sending back data and pictures. Due to the engineering difficulties involved, none of these probes are intended to ever return to their planet of origin.
- Pat Rawlings, who has done many "artist's conception" images of missions to Mars, created an evocative image of this anthro-Spirit's dream: a spacesuited human bending over a long-lost probe (actually Sojourner) and gently brushing away dust from it, as if welcoming back a pet.
- The "never come back home" stories may become reality for humans joining projects such as Mars One or Mars to Stay. However, the one-way nature of the trip to Mars would be made clear to travelers at the outset.
- In a blog post Randall mentioned an Blog post mentioning alternative version of this comic.