This Dead Robot Taught Me How to Feel

Wall-E. Photo: Disney/Pixar

I can think of a number of reasons to cry on Valentine’s Day, up to and including: feeling irrepressibly alone; being so overcome with emotion over loving your cat; being so overcome with emotion over loving another human being (weird flex, but okay); allergies from the myriad 11th-hour bouquets of roses on the subway; watching Romeo + Juliet for the 784th time and pouring one out for Young Leonardo DiCaprio & Co.; and reading that NASA bid its Mars rover Opportunity adieu with a Billie Holiday song, which is a direct attack on my veneer to be an unfeeling robot myself. I will not stand for it!

On Tuesday, February 12, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA sent a final, farewell message to Opportunity, a rover they launched in 2003. It made contact on the planet in January 2004, on a mission that was set to last 90 Martian days. (Days on Mars are only 39 minutes and 35 seconds longer than days on Earth, but there are 687 Earth days in one Martian year.) Rather than kick the planetary bucket when it was supposed to, Opportunity kept on keeping on until June 10, 2018, when a dust storm in the appropriately named Perseverance Valley affected the rover’s solar panels. According to NASA, the last message from the robot, whom they called Oppy, was “My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”

So, after hundreds of attempts to contact the rover, NASA decided to say good-bye. They did so by playing “I’ll Be Seeing You,” which was first published in 1938; Billie Holiday recorded her version of the track in 1944. In a now-viral tweet, Arielle Samuelson, who works at NASA, pointed to the song’s final stanza as a reason why they picked the track.

Reader, I cried. I bawled my eyes out, over a robot I have never met. I considered watching The Notebook, a film that also uses “I’ll Be Seeing You” to drive home the point that the people we love never really leave us, even after dementia and/or death. And where do we go from here, after knowing that robots can feel, and breakup texts reach Mars, and that not only could the red planet possibly sustain life, but bring on these emotions, too?

My only suggestion is that we begin a petition to demand that Wall-E 2, a sequel to the beloved Pixar movie that, as of 2016, seemed unlikely happen, is made. Because now I know that my truest source of feeling is a story of a robot explorer. On the other hand, more stories like this might have me short-circuiting myself. Imagine, the little robot Eve swaying in anti-gravity to an everlasting sunset as Billie Holiday soothes her. My heart would not be able to take it. It would be too much.

This Dead Robot Taught Me How to Feel