Visit to Victoria by Stuart Atkinson

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I sat in the seat behind her, on Faye's right, and the moment I strapped myself in Andrea gunned the engine and we lurched out of the rover bay into the afternoon sunlight. Next stop Victoria Crater!

We were all impatient to get down there, but not even Andrea can speed up time, and her own personal best time from Base to Vic is two and a half hours (which, I remember, the rest of us paid for with aching bones and throbbing heads!), so we settled down and made ourselves busy. We all have our own little routines. Ben buried himself in his latest science journal, occasionally commenting on the contents with either an approving "hmmm..?" or a disapproving "huh!". We left him to it. Faye opened up her black zipper case and quietly handed me her latest piece of work for inspection... and it was beautiful! It was a pen and ink sketch of the two of us kneeling down beside Spirit's side, our faces reflected in one of its flat panels as we hugged each other. "Like sisters..." she said to me, smiling. I think I managed not to cry. Just. Andrea looked at it over her shoulder and nodded, which is like a deafening cheer from anyone else...

>> Journal Entry 005/BV1/014

Well, here we are! We've just reached the edge of Victoria, just as the Sun is starting to drop down towards the horizon, and everything is turning that beautiful warm orange colour that Faye captures in her paintings so perfectly. Andrea just rolled us to a stop in the rover park - wait, I should really explain the layout of the site to you here, it'll make more sense...

I want you to imagine you are here in the rover beside me as we pull up at the end of our journey. If you look out of the windows now you won't be able to see the Opportunity rover of course because it's down there, on the crater floor. No, we've stopped in an area marked out specifically for rover parking, twenty minutes walk away from the crater's edge itself. That way the actual site is disturbed as little as possible. No, all you can see are a few orange, red and yellow/black rocks scattered across the dusty, flat ground all around you. There are ripples and low, razor-edged outcrops on all sides, stretching off to an uneven horizon marked by distant hills beyond a line of larger outcrops and house-sized boulders. Ahead of us the ground rises up like a wave, the climb marking the crater rim.

Right in front of you, visible through the main windows, is a U-shaped building, constructed out of plastic and prefab but coloured to blend in with the surrounding desert. This is the so called "Victoria Visitor Centre", and because the open end is facing you, you can see how it is really just a collection of 2D pictures and 3D holos of the crater and Oppy, a kind of permanent but unofficial exhibition for visitors to look at before trekking out to the crater's edge and then, if they choose to, down to the famous rover itself. There are plans to turn this into a real Visitor Centre, like the one over in Gusev, complete with a scale model of Opportunity and exhibition of some of the pictures she sent back from here, but for now, well, you know how tight money is in mars Heritage, they've barely enough to preserve the site of the first manned landing.

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