The Twin Towers Ended Up on Mars, Too

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

This morning, I wrote about a program that has given pieces of steel from the World Trade Center to hundreds of communities and organizations for memorials in all 50 states and several countries. Reader Stephen Fleming points out that parts of the steel have gone even farther: the Red Planet.

(Ho New / Reuters)

In September 2001, New York-based engineering company Honeybee Robotics was working to build rock-inspecting tools for NASA’s two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. After the attacks, its employees wanted to pay tribute to the victims. They used aluminum recovered from Ground Zero to make a cable shield for the tools and emblazoned it with an image of the American flag.  Spirit and Opportunity left Earth in 2003 and landed on Mars six months later, with a piece of the Twin Towers in tow.

The photo above was taken on Mars by Spirit’s panoramic camera. Spirit stopped communicating with Earth in March 2010. Opportunity is still going.

“One day, both rovers will be silent,” NASA wrote in 2011. “In the cold, dry environments where they have worked on Mars, the onboard memorials to victims of the Sept. 11 attack could remain in good condition for millions of years.”