Per Matt
The search for drinkable water on the Red Planet can be a grueling one, but never miss a golden Opportunity to go the distance. When NASA’s Mars Program sent two autonomous solar-powered rovers to the fourth rock from the Sun with the hope at least one of them would work, the sister robots managed to outlast their expected lifespan, discovering new facts about the terrain while learning how to survive the rugged landscape. By the time their computer systems finally shut down, Mission Control was devastated. And so was I.

Good Night Oppy is the documentary film that tells the tale of the heroic robot explorers that took an adventure to an alien planet, for the good of humanity.

From the very beginning, Spirit and Opportunity were designed to have human-like characteristics, so it’s no wonder each person involved with the design and building process saw the robots as their own babies. Many of the NASA employees compare the process to a childbirth, eventually sending their children off (to space), though it’s not exactly the same. What is the same are the emotions that are expressed throughout.

The happy highs are experienced when the rovers finally touch down and finally power up, but there’s continuous tension between the engineers and the scientists, as so many routine processes turn into bad situations that must be immediately resolved.

With both rovers hit by the largest series of solar flares ever seen before, their software was corrupted and had to be reset before even touching down onto the surface. Dust storms become global storms and extra precautions must be taken in order for them to survive. Both rovers get stuck in sand dunes at various points and broken wheels that can’t be repaired require them to drive backwards in order to keep going.

Everybody’s on pins and needles throughout. This little documentary has all the makings of a disaster film.

“This is a billion-dollar national asset. This could be a complete disaster.”

There’s definitely some unexpected surprises in store, as both rovers were only programmed to survive 90 Sols, or full Martian days, which happen to be 40 minutes longer than a complete day on Earth. Both outlive that projection, with Opportunity exploring the planet for almost 15 years!

Good Night Oppy has all the makings of a fantastic feature film — documentary or not. This one just happens to be true. And intentional or not, this was a mission of redemption for NASA, as previous projects (the Mars Polar Lander and the Mars Climate Orbiter) failed. I’m surprised the film crew was granted such complete behind-the-scenes access, which feels unprecedented, but I’m thankful more unheralded scientists and engineers receive their due credit.

I’m not gonna lie — I got emotional watching this one… and that almost never happens whenever watching a documentary! After turning them on for the first time, the robots became something more on another planet, they represented hope. And hope for a brighter future is something everyone can easily believe in.

“Once the rover’s on Mars, it has its own life…”

I’ve always been a fan of space exploration and although I never got to see these rocket launches live, I did get to see replays on NASA TV. I would have loved to have seen more behind-the-scenes info back then, but I’m thrilled that Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television and Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic partnered up with Amazon Studios to bring this film to the small screen.

The ancient civilization that previously lived on Mars is currently being explored by Perseverance, the current Mars rover, but the twin explorers will not be forgotten. This new rover has some mighty big shoes to fill, and topping a selfie taken on Sol 5,000 with an arthritic arm could be near impossible.