Friday, July 30, 2010

As a Robot Begins to Slowly Die, Its Human Masters Mourn

NASA's Spirit rover appears to be near the end of its career and I can't help but feel a twinge of sadness at the news. And it's not the first time. A few years ago, I felt the same twinge of sadness when NASA's Phoenix lander "died." It's a curious thing, our capacity to empathize, and it's an ability that we don't think about very often. NBC's sitcom, "Community" probably captures this sentiment best:

“You know what makes humans different from other animals? We’re the only species on Earth that observes Shark Week. Sharks don’t even observe Shark Week, but we do. For the same reason that I can pick up this pencil, tell you its name is Steve, and go like this [snaps pencil in half] and part of you dies just a little bit on the inside. We can sympathize with a pencil, we can forgive a shark, and we can give Ben Affleck an Academy Award for screenwriting. People can find the good in just about anything but themselves.…

The same sentiment that is applied to Sharks, Pencils, and Ben Affleck also applies to space probes. The same NASA story which explains Spirit's predicament also links to a tribute video which describes the plucky little rover's exploits. It's a very human thing and it's worth noting.

Spirit May Never Phone Home Again - NASA Science

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