“My battery is low and it's getting dark”
The Opportunity rover's collective persona
Keywords:Opportunity Rover, Mars, Non-Human Persona, Robot, NASA
The Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity operated on Mars from 2004 until it was disabled by a dust storm in 2018. Its demise was declared in February 2019 after months of unsuccessful recontact attempts by scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). This announcement sparked a global outpouring of grief that demonstrated people understood and related to the robot in a notably human-like manner. In short, it had been given a collectively understood persona. This paper presents a study of 100 digital postcards created by users on a NASA website that demonstrate the ways in which people expressed love, grief, hope, and thanks for Opportunity’s fourteen years of operation on another planet. In presenting this case study, the paper argues that certain personas are collective achievements. This is especially likely to occur for robots and other inanimate objects which have no centrally controlled or developed persona. The paper is situated within existing persona studies literature to extend and stretch the definition of persona studies and therefore expand the field in productive ways to incorporate the study of non-human personas.
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