A Hike to Mars

Mars is in the sights of man.

A couple of weeks ago I was sent a video clip about a Mars rover ( thanks David C ).

I had heard somewhere in the distance that NASA had embarked on a mission to explore the planet Mars, but to be perfectly honest I had completely forgotten about it (shhh… don’t tell NASA).  So after reviewing the clip my interest was peaked and it wasn’t long before I found myself researching a trail that headed straight towards (MER) the Mars Exploration Rover Mission.

Here’s the clip which was taken from the IMAX movie “Roving Mars” from 2006 . This is an edited short version.

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Pretty cool right? Well that is just the beginning.

As I began to learn about the Mars Exploration mission and its two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, I was first taken back by the engineering minds at NASA. To think that they could create such devices and all of the trajectories, tracking, flight path etc. that it took to pull off a mission such as this is a marvel. But as the awestruck began to subside my thoughts turned to other things.

  • First…I couldn’t help but wondered why?  Why invest such massive thought, billions of research dollars, and decades of energy exploring a dead planet?  Not only is Mars lifeless and vastly barren it is, quite frankly, ugly.  So why invest so heavily in it?
  • Secondly… I find the names that NASA chose for their data collectors (rovers), Spirit and Opportunity ironically interesting.
  • Thirdly…As I learned more about the mission of the rovers and the years of data they have communicated to NASA, I discovered that I too was receiving a communication but it wasn’t about martian rocks, dirt, craters, or planet-wide dust storms. It was something much more interesting then that.

So grab your backpack, slip on your gravity shoes, it’s time for another Hike –

Destination…Mars

Get to know Mars – (wikipedia)

Mars – the fourth planet from the Sun and the second smallest planet in the Solar System.  It is named after the Roman god of war, and is often described as the “Red Planet” because it is covered in iron oxide (rust) which gives it a reddish appearance. Mars is a terrestrial planet with a thin atmosphere and has surface features reminiscent both of the impact craters of the moon, and the volcanoes, valleys, deserts, and polar ice caps of Earth.

What NASA has to say  (Mars Exploration Program Overview)

Since our first close-up picture of Mars in 1965, spacecraft voyages to the Red Planet have revealed a world strangely familiar, yet different enough to challenge our perceptions of what makes a planet work. Every time we feel close to understanding Mars, new discoveries send us straight back to the drawing board to revise existing theories.

You’d think Mars would be easier to understand. Like Earth, Mars has polar ice caps and clouds in its atmosphere, seasonal weather patterns, volcanoes, canyons and other recognizable features. However, conditions on Mars vary wildly from what we know on our own planet.

What is the Mission?

The scientific objective of the (MER) mission is to search for and characterize a wide range of rocks and soils that may hold clues to past water activity on Mars.

About the Rovers

Spirit and Opportunity are the two robotic rovers from NASA’s ongoing Mars Exploration Rover mission.  They are designed to collect data from rocks, dirt, and other findings, then communicate that information back to NASA for study.  Each rover experienced 7 months of spaceflight to reach the Red planet and both landed successfully and began their missions as expected.

Rovers on mission

Size comparison between Earth & Mars

Spirit, (MER-A), was active from 2004 to 2010 and was the first of the two rovers to successfully land on Mars (January 4, 2004) three weeks before its twin, Opportunity (MER-B).

Spirit function over twenty times longer than NASA expected and logged 4.8 miles of driving instead of the planned .4 miles.  Spirit’s longevity has allowed additional geological analysis of the Martian rocks and surface features of the planet.

However, as successful as the launch, landing, and first five years of Spirit’s mission was, something unexpected and totally mission changing occurred.

On May 1, 2009 (5 years, 3 months, 27 Earth days after landing), Spirit became stuck in soft soil.  For eight months NASA analyzed the situation and attempted to program Spirit to free itself.  However, their attempts failed and on January 26, 2010 NASA officials announced that Spirit was irrecoverably due to being obstructed by its location in the Marian soft soil.

Though Spirit’s original mission had become altered the rover would now become a stationary science platform. For two months Spirit continued to send data but on March 22, 2010, all communication stopped. JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) continued their attempts to regain contact with Spirit but on May 24, 2010, NASA announce that their efforts to communicate with the unresponsive rover had ended.  NASA headquarters planned a formal farewell after the Memorial Day holiday which was televised on NASA TV.

Opportunity, (MER-B) landed successfully on Mars on January 25, 2004 in an impact crater named Eagle which thrilled Scientists because the crater contains rocky outcroppings that helped prove that Meridiani (a plain located 2 degrees south of Mars’ equator) was once an ocean floor.

Mars Surface

A year later, from April to early June of 2005, Opportunity became dangerously stuck in a sand dune with several wheels buried in the sand. Over a six week period NASA performed simulations to best decide how to free the rover without risking a permanent immobilization.  Their perseverance eventually paid off and the rover became freed by moving it a few centimeters at a time. Opportunity was once again able to resume its mission.

From 2004 to present day, Opportunity has exceeded it’s planned mission of activity by 8 years, 175 days. It has survived a planet-wide dust-storm lasting up to six weeks in duration, provided a two year study of Victoria crater, and reached Endeavor crater which provided NASA with data that showed that in Mars ancient history that water had once existed on the planet.

Opportunity continues to slowly move over the martian landscape providing NASA with the valuable data in which they seek.

Intermission for Transmission

So now you’ve learned a little about the Mars Exploration Rover Mission.  The scientific steps that mankind has made in the exploration of Mars is quite a feat to say the least.  But from watching the clip and learning about the MER mission I was drawn to something more interesting then the martian landscape and the ingenuity of man.  I saw a developing spiritual analogy.  One that challenges and compels my mission to share the gospel of Christ.

Focused Destination

Hills on Mars

As I look at the focused attention placed on bleak and barren Mars and become aware of the fact that so much time, money, thought, and energy has been invested on it, I am challenged with the questioning thought of, is the Christian community as committed with the same intensity in caring about the eternal destination of their fellow man?

I am confident that the team at NASA is not comprised of the same numbers of those who profess Christ.  But their commitment and total investment to conduct a mission on Mars may out shine the Christian’s mission to share the gospel of Christ.  The gospel whose bearing is focused on the eternal destination of the human soul.   The destination to be reconciled to God and live eternally with Him in His realm that He calls Heaven.

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Hills on Earth

Keeping with the spiritual mindset, it is a sad thought to think that man is spending more time exploring and getting excited about a dead planet rather then exploring the destination of their eternal souls.  Is this their fault? Or does the blame fall upon us? After all they are about their mission…are we?

The two images to your right speak volumes.  One is void and separated from life. The other is full and thriving with it.  If you were to poll individuals and asked them which place they would rather spend eternity…which one do you think they would pick?  The answer is easy and should compels us to get back on-mission.

Condition of the Spirits

The rover Spirit was originally created to collect martian samples and communicate its data to NASA. In the beginning of Spirit’s mission all went according to its design.  However, somewhere along the way Spirit went off course and got lodge in the soft dirt of the martian landscape.  Once there, NASA tried to intervene but to no avail and eventually Spirit ceased to function.

As I read about Spirit and it’s demise, I once again couldn’t help but find its path uncannily similar to man and his spiritual condition.

  • Spirit was created to communicate with its creator – NASA.
  • Man was created to commune with his creator – God.
  • Spirit began it’s journey according to its design.
  • Man began his journey according to his design.
  • Spirit went off course and got lodge in the dirt.
  • Man went off course and became lodged in sin.
  • NASA tried to intervene in setting Spirit free but to no avail.
  • Likewise man’s attempt to redeem himself from his sinful condition is of no avail.
  • Spirit being stuck in the martian dirt eventually cause it to cease to function.
  • Man being stuck in his sinful condition caused mankind’s physical death and altered the course of his spirit’s destination.

Romans 5: 12 “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”

However, unlike the rover Spirit there is still hope for the human spirit …it does not need to remain stuck in sin. It can be redeemed, put back on track, and journey on towards the original destination that was intended for it.  How is this possible?  Because unlike NASA, man’s creator found a way to restore man’s spirit to Himself.

Romans 5:10 “For when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

Opportunity Points the Way

MER Opportunity Launch

Rover Opportunity experienced a successful launch and landing, and has performed its mission well beyond its expectation.  However, it has not always been an easy road for Opportunity to travel and the rover has endured its share of challenges.  But it has prevailed and continues to perform its mission today all to the thrill of its creators at NASA.

Matthew 28:19  Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

As followers of Christ we too are on a mission.  A mission to “go and make disciples…”  We have a great opportunity to share the good news of reconciliation that our Creator has given to redeem the human spirit from its sinful condition and the consequences that follow.  It is a precious mission…one bought with blood. It is a mission to be carried out over our lifetime.  It is a vital mission with a vital outcome.

Often we can become distracted from our spiritual mission.  Life and the cares of it has a way of taking us off the path and lodging us in the sand one might say.  If we remain there, spinning our wheels, we will become noneffective and the mission will stall.  It’s a stall that we can not afford.  And it’s a stall that mankind can not afford for the destination of the human spirit weights in the balance.

So let us take our Que from rover Opportunity and persevere to overcome the things that distract us and cause us to lose sight of the mission.  Because eternal separation from Love is a bleak and ugly void much like the planet Mars.

Mankind was not created to inhabit the Red Planet anymore then his spirit was created to inhabit hell and suffer eternally separation from God.  May we follow Opportunities example and steadily continue to perform our mission to share the gospel of Christ.  I guarantee that if we do, it will thrill our creator God.

Returning to Earth

This was a long trek, I grant you that, but perhaps that is what it takes to readjust our bearings.  Perhaps getting a glimpse of a bleak and dismal planet will help reminds us about the condition of man and his eternal destination.

For those of you who stuck with me till the end of this post, thanks. I know it was lengthy but I hope you found it informative in more then one way.  Perhaps the next time that you see pictures of rusty colored martian rocks you’ll look at it in a different way.  A way that will cause you to check your missional GPS.

Funny what a little video clip will inspire isn’t it?

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3 thoughts on “A Hike to Mars

  1. Donna, you put a lot of work into writing this piece. It’s very thorough as always. Space exploration is neat but not necessary when fellow Americans are struggling to find good paying jobs, but I suppose those scientists who are exploring space are being paid well.

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    • I agree. Space exploration to me is like a luxury item, somewhat like a “swimming pool.” It’s great to have but a household can do without it. During an economic crises such as American is experiencing areas such as this such be placed on hold. This doesn’t mean that those awesomely intelligent minds need to be unemployed, but rather redirected. If they can fit a square block into a round hole, then perhaps they could help balance the budget. You may find the US funding dollars invested in space exploration interesting. If cut…..it would be One Giant Step towards financial improvement. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budget_of_NASA

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Path walking is always enriched when joined by others. Won't you leave your footprints along the way?

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