A new documentary about the Mars rover Opportunity promises to be chockfull of legitimately touching moments between machines and the humans who developed them from infancy to an unbelievable 15 year journey.
The Amazon documentary “Good Night Oppy,” which debuts November 4, is a tribute to the Mars rover Opportunity. What was supposed to be only a 90-day mission turned into an incredible odyssey as the rover kept going far past its expiration date. All while watched over by the team of scientists and engineers who formed a bond with the robot 64.7 million miles away.
Way back in 2003, NASA launched the first of what would be come a small army of robots to the surface of Mars. Opportunity followed three weeks after its fellow rover, Spirit, touched down. Spirit was also only meant to operate for 90s days, but kicked around Mars with Opportunity until 2009, when it got stuck in some soft sand. NASA tried to salvage Spirit, but it was no use.
Opportunity kept on kicking however until February of 2019 — long past when anyone thought it would still be transmitting data. After years of watching Opportunity make discoveries, take selfies and sing Happy Birthday to itself, it seemed like the good times would never end. But an epic, planet-wide dust storm covered the little rover in darkness for 10 days.
The last image it ever transmitted was taken by Opportunity’s left eye pancam. It’s pointed directly at the sun, but so little light it getting through that the rover is in complete darkness (the little white specks are “noise from the camera,”
according to NASA.)
Opportunity needed a steady source of sunlight to keep its heaters on. The storm and the 10-day darkness it caused exposed the delicate electronics to the bone-snapping cold of the harsh Martian surface. Once the dust had cleared, Opportunity wouldn’t answer NASA’s calls. On Feb. 13, 2019, Opportunity’s mission was deemed complete. In the end, the little robot who could traveled 26.21 miles across the face of Mars. Scientists had assumed they’d get 0.5 miles out of the rovers.
Obviously, after working with the little rover for a decade and a half some of the staff developed deep feelings for the little guy. “Good Night Oppy” explores how this simple robot operating millions of miles from Earth affected real human lives. Former NASA staff call the rover part of the family. Many seemed to form a legitimate emotional bond with the rover and how could you not? It’s so plucky. It defied the odds again and again. It’s even got these cameras on a stalk that look like eyes in a face. What’s not to love!
I don’t know about you, but nothing warms my heart quite like a never-say-die character surrounded by a found family who believes in them. And if it’s about space and science? Even better!