Schafer: I’m hyperfocusing on… Mars rovers

Columnist Cameryn Scafer hyperfixates on the enchantment of Mars’ rovers.Opportunity was supposed to run for 90 sols, but instead lasted nearly 57 times as long, for a total of 5,111 sols. Oppy’s last message was received June 10, 2018, during the largest dust storm Mars had seen in decades.

Cameryn Schafer

Editor’s Note: This column is a part of a series called “I’m Hyperfocusing On…”.

Editor’s Note: This piece previously incorrectly referred to the first Mars rover as Pathfinder, which was the name of the mission. The rover’s name has been corrected to Soujourner, as it was actually named.

ADHD is a diagnosis that has taken me on a wild ride for almost 20 years. When I learned of my diagnosis two years ago, I was shocked because I didn’t feel like I fit the stereotype of the kid that can’t stop bouncing. For those of you that aren’t sure what ADHD actually looks like, I’ve decided to give you an insight through a series I’ll be calling “I’m hyperfocusing on…”

One of the many symptoms that I often experience with my ADHD is hyperfocus, hence the series’ title. When I get absorbed in something, the rest of my world disappears. You won’t be able to catch my attention unless you literally hold your hand 6 inches from my face. I’m engrossed explicitly in one thing from moment to moment, and I might spend 20 minutes fixating on a subject or I might spend a few days hyperfocusing. I once spent 20 days straight immersed in a single class.

Now, to discuss the Mars rovers. A while back, I came across the information that Mars rovers are given their tasks for each sol with a wake-up song. (A sol is a Martian day, lasting 24 hours, 39 minutes, 35 seconds.) I would be lying if I said I didn’t cry over this for an entire hour while driving home from the city with my family.  

Spirit woke up to “Proud Mary,” “Runnin’ with the Devil” and “Hit the Road Jack” for its first three sols of driving.

Later, Opportunity woke up on its first sol listening to “So Happy Together” because it finally got to work with Spirit.

Soujourner woke up to songs before them, including “Love Me Like a Rock” on rock analysis days.

Curiosity, currently the only rover still running, also gets wake-up songs, like “The Ride of the Valkyries” and the theme song from “Mission Impossible” for long drives.

In 2018, after more than 14 years of wake-up songs and faithfully fulfilled missions, Opportunity, nicknamed “Oppy,” was caught in a Martian dust storm. Oppy was initially intended to last 90 sols or 92 days on Mars, but the dust storm started on sol 5,111 of Opportunity’s mission, nearly 57 times longer than the mission’s expected period. This dust storm was the largest in decades, and Oppy’s solar-powered battery was without a sun to recharge it. Oppy sent a message back to mission control on June 10 that roughly translated to “My battery is low, and it’s getting dark,” which would be the last message they’d ever receive from the robot.

Mission control believed that Oppy’s solar panel was covered with a thick layer of dust, which was expected to blow away during the windy season. They sent wake-up songs day after day, choosing upbeat songs to inspire the robot to respond. After eight months of trying to reach Opportunity to no avail, they sent a final piece out, knowing that the rover’s speakers wouldn’t be playing it aloud. The principal investigator of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Dr. Squyres, chose Billie Holiday’s version of “I’ll Be Seeing You” to say goodbye. This was the wake-up song that hit me the hardest and initiated my hour of crying.

I find it interesting that I revisited the Mars rover wake-up songs this week, notably because NASA released another rover to join Curiosity about eight months ago. The newest rover, Perseverance, will be landing this week at 2:55 p.m. Central Standard Time on Thursday. I’m hoping with every fiber of my being that Perseverance will get wake-up calls just like all its predecessors, and I’ll definitely spend my Friday wondering what the first wake-up song was that morning.

There are incomplete lists that can be found online for anybody interested in the wake-up songs given to the rovers. NASA posted a sample of Pathfinder’s songs here. Curiosity’s first 10 songs can be found here. An MIT student compiled all of the songs he could locate for Spirit and Opportunity as well, which is also my favorite list because he included descriptions of the mission for each sol. I encourage you to find rover playlists on your music streaming site. I know Spotify has six for Opportunity!