The beauty of space exploration has held us for decades now, and as technology develops and new opportunities present themselves to reach further into the cosmos, the amazing capabilities of engineers and scientists become more and more obvious to us. There is no exception to this when watching Good Night Oppy, the story of the Opportunity and Spirit Mars rovers that launched for the red planet in 2003.
From the beginning, Good Night Oppy is gripping, as it lays out the high stakes of the mission at hand and how NASA how to prepare for the launch of the rovers and the impact the work would have on understanding Mars as a planet and the presence of water, and maybe life, somewhere other than Earth. When the rovers embark on their journey, there is apprehension and fear as silence ensues and the NASA mission team wait to hear back if landing was successful. When they receive a signal, the mission on the planet begins as the rovers are then able to begin their exploration and data collection.
What starts out as hours turns into days and months as the original mission comes up to its initial 90 day mission length. The surface and geography of Mars is recorded and studied by the rovers as they return information to Earth, and scientists are able to gather clues about the history of the planet – such as the presence of bedrock, which would suggest that water was there at some point in the past, or the discovery of a mineral on Mars that comes about from the presence of water.
As time passes, the relationship and work of the two rovers grows. Spirit is in colder, rockier, and more volcanic region of Mars while Opportunity is in a warmer, sandier, and easier to navigate region. For Opportunity it starts out as an easier experience as it cruises along through its terrain and studies the environment. After more than six Earth years, however, Spirit ultimately meets its end when communication back to NASA fails and the rover is unresponsive.
This is where the story becomes Opportunity’s as the lone rover on the planet exceeds all expectations. Opportunity ends up traveling and working for over fifteen Earth years, capturing the curiosities and passion of not just those working at NASA but all those watching over the years, including students who would find themselves working at NASA on the very same mission that first got them interested in space exploration. This heartwarming tale effectively weaves together interviews, archival footage, and animated recreations of Opportunity’s (and Spirit’s) adventures on Mars.
Good Night Oppy is a story of perseverance as it follows a machine that defies all odds and expectations over the years. Braving each storm, collecting each sample, digging itself out of every hole and sandhill it got itself stuck in, the Opportunity rover was able to collect vital data that revealed more about Mars than had ever been known before. Through its tenacity, made even more amazing by the sheer fact that its programming allowed for autonomy and the rover could make decisions independent of mission control, it became a very personal relationship for the team that built Opportunity and was with it every step fo the way over those fifteen years.