Keith’s note: I asked former NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe what his thoughts were today as Opportunity ended its mission on Mars:
“The Mars Exploration Rovers – Spirit and Opportunity – missions were stunning achievements that exceeded expectations beyond anyone’s imagination. Over the span of 15 years, for a program designed to last no more than six months, the MER team’s scientific and engineering achievements have informed our understanding of Mars to pave the way for future exploration. They started operations at a critical moment in the wake of the Columbia shuttle tragedy and after a series of missions to Mars with little success. As the chapters of NASA history continue to be written, the MER program will be remembered as a moment that restored our resolve to explore space beyond our own planet.
Charles Elachi and Steve Squyres are the heroes of MER in my book. Both were routinely deployed to convince dubious decision makers on Capitol Hill that the engineering project was sound, the scientific mission was well considered and the probability for success was higher than the mission failures that preceded. Their credibility and expertise made very Doubting Thomas a convert. After the Rovers landed, Steve proved to be the go-to guy to explain to television audiences around the globe exactly what we were looking for on the Red Planet. Today it’s treated as “Truth according to Squyres” thanks to his capacity to bring the science to life for all of us who are pedestrians.”
I also had a chance to ask Steve Squyres about the twin rovers and their place in the pantheon of human exploration: