‘Good Night Oppy’ takes viewers on a journey to Mars

The new documentary shows the deeply human side of robotic exploration. #king5evening

SEATTLE — There’s a movie star on Mars.

“Designed purposefully to invite us along for the journey because she was lovable and cute,” said film director Ryan White.

Opportunity, along with its twin rover, Spirit, landed on the red planet in January 2004 for a three-month mission. Both greatly exceeded NASA’s expectations, with Opportunity lasting 57 times longer than expected until it finally ceased operating in 2018.

The rovers are the subject of a new documentary, “Good Night Oppy,” which follows the team behind this journey of exploration. 

Because external cameras couldn’t come along for the ride, filmmakers had to recreate Mars using high resolution images taken by the rovers themselves, then reimagine the rovers’ progress through the alien landscape. 

“Industrial Light and Magic did the visual effects,” White said. “And the mandate from the beginning was we only want to do this if we can have a completely photo-real Mars.”

The documentary captures the emotional farewell to the record-breaking mission, as the “Oppy” team celebrates their accomplishments with mixed emotions.

“It’s the team. The team coming together every single day to decide: What are the problems we’ve got to fix? Where are we gonna take the rover? What are we gonna do with it tomorrow? What are the scientists discovering?” said engineer Doug Ellison. “That teamwork and troubleshooting, that camaraderie, that is what we’re really saying goodbye to when we’re saying goodbye to a project like this.”

Ellison hopes this story about what humans can accomplish with teamwork and innovation will inspire future great leaps forward.

Young people might see something like this and see a little piece of themselves in that story, want to be a part of their version of that story in the future, and in some way seed the next generation of explorers as a result.”

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