Looking for a few hours escape from the woes of the world, I attended a screening of the movie “Good Night Oppy”. Performing at FAU’s Living Room Theaters in Boca Raton, I found the documentary uplifting and engaging.
Directed by Ryan White, the film takes viewers behind the scenes of a mission to explore the surface of Mars with two remote-controlled unmanned robots, named Spirit and Opportunity.
After landing on Mars in January 2004, the rovers began what NASA scientists and engineers in charge of the mission thought would be three months. Both have largely survived the planned 90 days of exploration. Spirit traveled the “Red Planet” for over six years. Opportunity (nicknamed “Oppy”) turned out to be the true “miracle” of the mission, operating for over 14 years. “Oppy” ceased communicating with Earth when a severe dust storm ceased functioning in June 2018. I watched in anticipation and amazement as the months and years passed and the mission continued. When one of the rovers struggles to overcome an obstacle like climbing out of a chasm or finding an alternate route despite a damaged wheel, you find yourself persevering.
Opportunity demonstrated that it was possible to operate a rover for more than a decade on another planet, overcoming engineering and driving challenges while still performing scientific work.
Throughout the mission, you realize that many of the scientists involved in the project have devoted much of their careers to the project. In two hours of viewing, you see the focus and resilience it took the team to plan and execute this large-scale project. The rovers become the focal point of their daily lives. Throughout the film, you witness the interaction and connection between man and machine. The NASA team put so much emotion into their daily communication with the non-human rovers that were equipped with human traits. They had personalities and feelings like the humans who created them.
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As a fan of hit pop songs, playing “Here Comes the Sun” and “Walking on Sunshine” throughout the movie kept me fired up and singing to myself. More importantly, the tunes were used by the research team to “wake up” the robots after their periods of downtime. Overall, the human connection is integrated to achieve the mission’s main objective: scientific research on Mars.
The main goals of the two rovers were to determine if some of the elements of life as we know it could have or exist on Mars, focusing on finding ancient water and characterizing the planet’s climate and geology. One of Oppy’s important discoveries has been confirmed, the presence of standing water on Mars for long durations. Just weeks after landing, Opportunity identified a rocky outcrop that showed signs of a liquid past. Another highlight of Oppy’s mission that was detailed in the film was the exploration of Victoria Crater. Opportunity walked around the rim taking photos and looking closely at the rock layers surrounding the crater.
Opportunity celebrated its 5,000th day on Mars by taking a one-of-a-kind selfie. This is also documented in the film.
Spirit and Opportunity helped establish that there was once liquid water on Mars, a planet that has always seemed dry, cold and lifeless.
The film ends by informing the audience that after the success of the original rover mission to Mars, the next generation mission, Curiosity, is currently in operation. As of August 2, 2022, Curiosity is still operating successfully after 10 years.
A Holocaust-era film currently showing in the Living Room Theaters is “PLAN A.” It is based on the true story of the “Avengers”, a group of Jewish militia men and women who, after surviving the Holocaust, swore to avenge the deaths of their people by poisoning the towns water supply. Germans and kill six million people. Germans, one for every Jew massacred by the Nazis – “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”.