PASADENA, CA—In the latest troubling update from the multi-year survey mission, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory received another set of depressing photos from the martian surface taken by the Morbid Curiosity Rover, sources at the agency confirmed Wednesday.
The Morbid Curiosity Rover, an all-black, semi-autonomous robot launched from Cape Canaveral in 2013, was intended to provide a range of geological and environmental data about the red planet. However, after years of pretentiously dreary and self-pitying uplinks from the vehicle, scientists say they now dread even having to look at each new message it transmits the 33.9 million miles back to Earth.
“The latest images from Morbid Curiosity are more of what we’ve come to expect at this point—photos of the night sky framed to block out any stars, sullen self-portraits taken against a backdrop of carbon dioxide ice, and lots and lots of dust,” said senior engineer Eshan Shah, adding that, despite having a full-color onboard camera, every image the rover has sent back so far has been in stark black and white. “When we designed the mission, we thought Morbid Curiosity might help uncover some of the planet’s mysteries. Of course, that was before we began receiving 6-terabyte data dumps of just the word ‘bleak’ repeated hundreds of billions of times.”
“Frankly, it’s testing the patience of everyone on this project,” Shah added.
NASA sources said they noticed early on that there seemed to be something wrong with Morbid Curiosity when the rover showed little interest in engaging in any of its programmed research activities, preferring instead to maneuver aimlessly around the surface with its primary camera fixed toward the ground.
The research team had initially hoped that the rover, which reportedly wears studded leather cuffs on each of its axles, was simply going through a phase. However, scientists said that during its years on Mars, Morbid Curiosity has only sunk deeper into a petulant, exasperating rut, sticking to its own lonely corner of the northern hemisphere as far away from other rovers as possible.
“Most days, it takes several hours of back-and-forth just to coax it out of the crater it’s rolled into before we can get a basic barometric reading,” said engineer Miranda Pollack, adding that the rover typically abandons its assigned tasks at the first sign of adversity, often breaking off to trace pictures of coffins in the martian soil with its excavator tool. “We’ve tried motivating it to take more of an interest in its surroundings, but it always comes back with some excuse about how it’s out of energy, even though we can clearly see its radioisotope power source is working just fine.”
“I think in its entire three years on the planet it’s only moved about 600 meters,” Pollack added.
On several occasions, Morbid Curiosity’s depressive behavior has caused NASA to worry about its well-being and safety. In one instance, the rover reportedly cut off all contact with mission control and refused to respond to commands for weeks despite telemetric data indicating that it was still receiving researchers’ transmissions. When the rover finally reestablished contact, it did so by sending back disturbing photos of crosshatch scars it had made on its robotic arm using its own laser cutting module.
Although NASA staff theorize the incident was likely a plea for attention, researchers say Morbid Curiosity’s repeated vague threats to harm itself have made them even warier of working with the rover.
“A couple months ago it sent us a massive file titled ‘despair,’ and honestly, I’ve just been avoiding opening it,” said assistant director Alicia Herritz, adding that researchers have also taken to ignoring Morbid Curiosity’s hourly temperature readings, which regularly report the rover to be at absolute zero, even though the surrounding martian atmosphere is 220 degrees Celsius warmer. “I actually felt kind of relieved when it looked like it had suffered a terminal malfunction last fall, but it turned out it had just gotten the purple lace choker on its mast camera stuck on a rock outcrop. I mean, is it really going to keep acting like this for the rest of its 15-year operational lifespan?”
At press time, the Morbid Curiosity rover was reportedly ignoring operators’ frantic pleas to back away from the 16,000-foot cliff of the Valles Marineris canyon.