Amid a growing hubbub of discontent, the Mars spirit rover reached the end of its extraordinary mission yesterday.
In May 2009, it got stuck in some loose Martian sand and hasn't moved since. Transmissions from the probe dried up over a year ago.
Top scientists paid tribute to the incredible robot rover, whose journey to the red planet enriched our understanding of its warmer, wetter history.
"Well whoop-de-do," said a NASA engineer last Monday.
The unhappy man is Colin Turner. A Harvard graduate, he designed the panoramic camera (or pancam) that allowed the Spirit rover to exame the texture, colour, mineralogy, and structure of the local terrain.
Secretly, he had hoped for his invention to reveal glittering castles, levitating vehicles, men armed with Radium pistols, and stampeding Martian cavalry, as predicted by books such as Edgar Rice Burroughs's A Princess of Mars.
"The reality was a huge let-down," he said bitterly. "If you want to simulate the findings of the Mars Spirit rover, just empty a few bags of concrete onto the floor and lie on your front in it, then look around very very slowly. For six years."
Ali Shankar, who designed the probe's "rock abrasion tool", was sympathetic. In the UK for an engineering symposium, he agreed to meet our correspondent at Forbidden Planet's Bristol Megastore.
"You can't talk about this stuff 'cos you don't want to look like a joker," he explained. "So you have to sit around saying, Oh, wouldn't it be wonderful if we found evidence that there used to be water there, when really you hope it's like Tarzan set in space. Then you have to fake excitement when you find a slightly unexpected rock in a crater. Everyone's whooping and doing high fives, but you can see it in their eyes. We're all disappointed by just how boring Mars is."
On Tuesday, NASA admitted that the chances of an ailing Martian civilisation finding the Spirit rover, capturing its makers, and forcing them to repopulate the planet by making love to beautiful blue-skinned women were "slim at best".
"But on a positive note," added their spokseman, "we can finally debunk the idea that intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic are regarding this earth with envious eyes, and slowly but surely drawing their plans against us."
The US space agency is now focussing its efforts on the MSL rover mission (Mars Science Laboratory), which was postponed until 2011 due to plummeting levels of interest from the scientific community and the distracting release of James Cameron's Avatar.
"I don't know why we're bothering," said Turner. "The whole planet is a wasteland. It's crap."