Friday, January 29, 2010

Spirit, the Mars Rover is just a machine but tugs on our heartstrings nonetheless

This wonderful xkcd cartoon

illustrates perfectly how we can get anthropomorphise non-living things. We have this "plucky" little rover "fighting" on against all the odds and now she's stuck. Yeah, yeah, I know, I've picked up on Emily Lakdawalla (she of Planetary Society blog fame)'s habit of referring to Spirit as a "she", something that makes "her" even more endearing. NASA and the JPL have decided after a year of unsuccessful attempts to free her that she no longer be a rover. She is now a Stationary Research Platform, à la Viking. She may survive the Martian winter, but her solar panels will eventually get covered in dust, Spirit will finally power down and, effectively, die.

Why do we do this to ourselves? I use words like "die" sometimes in my daily work when I talk about hard disks or old PCs or whatver that pack in: they die. Big deal. I can rationalise that Spirit is a fabulously engineered machine that has performed well above and beyond the original mission specification, and nothing more. Yet cartoons like this one definitely push my emotional buttons. It could be that there's a fundamental human fear in play here, that of dying alone in a strange place, having been abandoned by everyone. Any takers on this one?

But maybe that's just me getting sappy. It's just a machine.

Isn't it....?





Planetary Society blog:

JPL Mars Rovers site:

Nasa Rovers site:




Posted via web from John's posterous

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