Mars

“Good Night Oppy” Beautifully Illustrates the Unbreakable Bond Between Humans and our Robotic Explorers

In January 2004, NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity (aka “Oppy”) landed in two completely different locations on Mars. Their missions were only designed to last 90 sols (approximately 90 Earth days), but they exceeded these parameters, and then some. While Spirit lasted until 2010, Opportunity lasted another astonishing eight years, when it sent its last transmission to Earth in June 2018. During its more than 14-year tenure on the Red Planet, not only did Opportunity gain celebrity status as being the longest serving planetary robotic explorer in history, but it helped reshape our understanding of Mars’ present and past. Now with the help of Amazon Studios and available on Amazon Video, we can re-live the adventure of this incredible rover with Good Night Oppy.

This incredible film gives in-depth and very emotional interviews with the many scientists and engineers responsible for sending the most successful rover to another world, with fantastic narration of the rover’s voices by the extremely talented, Angela Bassett.

“At the beginning, there’s nothing,” Dr. Steve Squyres, Principal Investigator on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER) which comprised Spirit and Oppy, narrates the opening of the film as the viewer is taken on a gorgeous computer animated flyover of the Red Planet. “There’s no concept of a robot explorer crawling across the surface of another world. And, then gradually, you start to think, you start to act, you start to build, and those machines come to life.”

Dr. Squyres, along with other scientists and engineers associated with the mission, tell the story of getting the mission approved, building the rovers, and their personals and professional journeys throughout the course of the mission itself. These incredible interviews include Dr. Jennifer Trosper (MER Project System Engineer and Mission Manager), Rob Manning (MER Lead Systems Engineer), Ashley Stroupe (MER Rover Driver), Kobie Boykins (MER Mechanical Engineer), Dr. Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu (MER Robotics Engineer), Dr. Abigail Fraeman (MER Deputy Project Scientist), and many more.

The film follows all their incredible journeys from two years prior to launch and throughout the course of the entire mission. We get to see them overcome adversity as they tackle one obstacle after another, not just to get the rovers launched, but the mechanical and scientific concerns they encountered after landing on Mars. We see their jubilation as they play wakeup songs for the rovers, watch as these brave robotic pioneers traverse a Martian landscape, and their responses of wonder when they discover that dust devils are responsible for cleaning the rover’s solar panels, that ultimately allow them to operate far longer than initially expected.

As the mission progresses, they begin to make bets on how long the rovers will last, but this excitement slowly diminishes over time as the rovers begin experiencing more mechanical failures. Eventually, Spirit meets its end after becoming stuck in sand, and while Oppy continued for several more years, it eventually perishes when a global dust storm prevents the rover from receiving the adequate sunlight necessary to keep it powered. In the end, when the reality hits that Oppy won’t be phoning home, some of the team tearfully describe the experience as like losing a loved one.

Good Night Oppy isn’t just about examining the exploration of other planets, but the exploration of the unbreakable bond between humans and our robotic counterparts, the latter of which are responsible for doing the exploring themselves. It’s a beautiful and heartwarming story of adversity, excitement, and loss. If you want to know what it’s like to work on a NASA mission with all the emotional ups and downs, watch Good Night Oppy on Amazon Video.

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

Laurence Tognetti

Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.

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