“Do you think we’ll find it?”

“For sure. It’s time for it to come home. It should be here somewhere. Be careful where you step”

(C) Rostislav Shekhovtsov

(C) Rostislav Shekhovtsov

Sometime earlier…

It was another frigid cold Martian morning. I’m feeling the cold even through my sleeping bag. I’m laying inside the bag in the fetal position praying for sunlight today. We have 3 days of power left in the batteries and if the dust storm continues, we’re done! The end, konetz, fin! Well, no time for long prayers, I must get off the bed. I open my eyes and I can see sun light through the sleeping bag! My eyes became as big as onions! I unzipped the bag and seeing the sunrays reflect in the floating dust brings a smile on my face, it was like magic in the low gravity of Mars. The storm was bigger than predicted thus we had to conserve power. We reduced several systems to a minimum including heating, air recycling and even the sat-com. No music, no movies, no calls from our families. Updates from Mission Control only once a day. Only the bare minimum for the last weeks. We were in survival mode for as long as possible. I didn’t see the Sun for… I don’t know how many weeks. I miss those blue sunsets and can’t wait for tonight! If things go right today it should be a good day for the morale here and back on Earth.

The station was so cold. I got out of the bed and when I put my feet on the metallic floor a scene from the movie Aliens hit me, when everybody just woke up from their sleep and Hudson wasn’t satisfied with the floor temperature. I wasn’t either!

“Someone fetch my slippers!” I yelled

“Look into my eye!” Frank answered from the kitchen

I smiled. Like me, Frank was also a sci-fi enthusiast.

I took a look out the window and what a good day for science, I thought. I found Frank near the airlock as he was getting ready to go outside to clean the solar panels. I ate something fast, checked the satellite weather and went after him to help clean them. Every second of sunlight is more precious than gold these days on Mars.

“Next Saturday the resupply ship arrives” I said while dusting of a solar cell

“Yeah, I know! Coffee’s almost out”

“Heh, yeah! Listen, I was thinking. How about we meet history today?”

“What do you mean by “meet history”?” asked Frank puzzled

“I know it’s not in our mission schedule, but since it’s Sunday and nothing to do, no church today, sky is clear, birds are chirping”

“What birds, boss?”

“It’s a few hours drive to Opportunity rover” I said smiling. “and the station’s batteries will charge faster if we stay outside. We turn everything off except life support”

“No way!”

“Yeah, I checked the map. Checked the weather too. The sandstorm is over. What do you say?”

“And if we find it, then what?”

“We send it home, Frank. What do you say?!” I asked again anxiously waiting an answer

“You’re crazy, boss!” said Frank smiling while cleaning the panels. “Did you talk with Mission Control?”

“Nope, communication once a day, remember? It will be a surprise!”

“What about the weight?”

“The rover is 185 kg on Earth. Plenty of space left for mission stuff. And what we can’t load now, we’ll squeeze in when the next ship arrives.”

“Well, what’s the worst that could happen? Fire us? I’m in! I’ve always wanted to enter the history books”

We both laughed.

After we finished cleaning the solar panels we jumped into EV-1, our exploration vehicle. After several hours we arrived at Perseverance Valley where we knew Opportunity lost its signal to Earth some 20 years ago. We got out and started searching. The tracks left by the rover are long gone.

I remember looking at those photos sent by it back when I was a kid and dreamed about going to Mars. How it would be? How it would be to see the Sun rise on another planet, or how it would be to see Earth from 50 million kilometers away. Now I’m here, I’m on Mars! Like Neil Armstrong I am the first one to step on another celestial body and what a huge step this was for everyone.

“Do you think we will find it?”

“For sure. It’s time for it to come home. It should be here somewhere. Be careful where you step”

We searched for a while through the red Martian sand when something caught my eye. Something shining through the red soil some 50 meters in the distance. I ran towards it and there it was, half covered in sand. The mast camera was still looking towards the horizon, like it was searching for someone to help it clean the sand from its solar panels. It’s like he never wanted to give up, one last ray of sunshine, one last volt.

“Frank, here, I found him!” I yelled in the mic.

I turned back to the rover.

“I’m here, buddy! I’m sorry it took me so much time to get to you!” I said quietly in my helmet.

It was like I found my long lost friend. I gently touched the camera, I was trying to sooth his wounds, his loneliness for so many years.

I remembered my first visit at Kennedy Space Center where a mockup of Opportunity and its brother, Spirit, are displayed. If someone would’ve told me back then that in 20 years I will be digging him out of the Martian sand I wouldn’t have believed them.

“It’s time to come home, Oppy!”

Bogdan Movileanu