The Spirit Rover Longs to Bask in Sunshine
Although one crippled wheel drags behind,
we must outrace the sinking of the sun.
To survive the winter, for which we weren't designed,
Spirit must drive to find a sunlit home.
The burned-out wheel turns soil like a plow,
excavating sand, a drag upon our motion.
We dig through sand to sulfate salt below,
the buried trace of vanished ancient ocean.
We cannot pause to follow up:
we move or die. We cannot stop.
To tilt its solar cells into the day's sun
we need a hillside angled to the north.
Spirit must drive to reach a winter haven,
for winter comes, and days grow cold and short.
first published in Asimov's Science Fiction, March 2011
I wrote this poem for the Spirit rover as the approach of our second winter on Mars, when the rover, unable to reach its originally-planned winter science target, made a dash to reach a sun-facing ridge which we tagged "Winter Haven," to get sufficient sun exposure to survive the winter.
Spirit won the race, that time. In March 2011--the very month that this poem appeared in Asimov's-- the dust-covered Spirit rover, stuck with one dead wheel in a patch of soft, crusty sand that we named "Troy," lost its race against the sun. Its last radio transmission came when it shut down for low power in the winter, and was not heard from since.
Goodbye, Spirit. You were a good rover.
Page by Geoffrey A. Landis
Image shows the Spirit Rover, from Mars Rovers web page