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Calling all space nerds: New documentary Good Night Oppy will give you all the feels

Ars chats with director Ryan White about recreating Mars from rover’s perspective, and more.



Enlarge / “Opportunity was our brave, intrepid explorer so we could see this unchartered world that we’d never seen before.” (credit: Prime Video)

For over 14 years, space nerds and the general public alike were riveted by the parallel journeys of Spirit and Opportunity, twin intrepid Mars rovers who launched and landed on the red planet three weeks apart and surpassed their original 90-day missions by many years. We watched from Earth as they explored the Martian surface and dutifully collected samples before finally giving up the ghost in 2010 and 2018, respectively. Now we can relive that journey all over again—while others can discover it for the first time—in Good Night Oppy, a dazzling, feel-good new documentary from Prime Video directed by Ryan White.

It’s easy to forget that the triumphant story of Spirit and Opportunity began against a backdrop of two previous failed missions to Mars: the Mars Climate Orbiter, a robotic space probe that lost communication as it went into orbit insertion, and the Mars Polar Lander, which never re-established communication after what was likely a crash landing. While the orbiting 2001 Mars Odyssey mission was a success, there was still tremendous pressure on the teams at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to finally land an autonomous solar-powered robotic rover on Mars. Another failure could have jeopardized the future of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover program.

Fortunately, both launches went off without a hitch. There was a moment of terror when Spirit bounced dramatically upon impact, resulting in a nail-biting delay until the signal was re-established. (The engineers in Good Night Oppy joke that Spirit was always a bit of a drama queen.) But Spirit was fine, and Opportunity landed safely a few weeks later. Each rover spent the next several years exploring their respective regions of Mars, overcoming steep hills, getting stuck in the loose Martian soil, and bracing against dust storms to deliver oodles of valuable scientific insights back to mission control on Earth.

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