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Emily LakdawallaFebruary 1, 2013

Columbia, ten years on

Today is a day of remembrance for NASA: the tenth anniversary of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia during its return to Earth. A year after that terrible day, the seven astronauts were honored in names of landmarks visible far away on the eastern horizon of the Mars Exploration Rover Spirit, which had landed on Mars only a month previously.

The Columbia Hills

NASA / JPL / Cornell

The Columbia Hills
On February 2, 2004, NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe announced that the seven astronauts lost with Space Shuttle Columbia on February 1, 2003 would be memorialized in the names of seven hills seen on Spirit's eastern horizon.

Naming landmarks after fallen heroes is something that people like do do, but I don't usually find much comfort in it. Having a constant reminder of the potential downside of our attempts to go beyond our limits makes us mindful of safety but it can also make us timid and prevent us from accepting risks that we need to take in order to do new things that we've never done before. That's why what Spirit did next was so wonderful. A year and a half later, Spirit's horizon was totally different. Because Spirit had climbed those hills. It wasn't something a Mars Exploration Rover had ever been expected to do -- but the mission tried, and then, they succeeded. That, I think, was a much more fitting tribute to the memories of people who died in the act of trying to expand our horizons.

I miss Spirit, too. Here's her view from the summit of Husband Hill. Her tracks point back toward her landing site, and her pole antenna points toward the Inner Basin and Home Plate, where she made discovery after discovery.

The Husband Hill Summit Panorama, Spirit sols 583-586

NASA / JPL / Cornell

The Husband Hill Summit Panorama, Spirit sols 583-586
This triumphant panorama is the culmination of Spirit's arduous ascension of Husband Hill, the tallest of the Columbia hills. It represents Spirit's first view down into the "Inner Basin" and Home Plate, where the rover would spend the rest of its mission. The rover deck appears pristine; strong winds at the hill's peak had swept the rover's deck clean. Photos for this panorama were taken August 24-27, 2005.

Read more: pretty pictures, obituary, human spaceflight, astronaut, Space Shuttle program, Mars, Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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