Space exploration means humans pushing the boundaries of what's possible. As Star Trek invokes, it's the final frontier. Good Night Oppy tells a beautifully human story through the lens of two Mars robots, Spirit and Opportunity. It's a feel good tale sure to inspire all ages about what humans can accomplish together.
Good Night Oppy covers the Mars mission from just a thought in astronomer Steve Squyres’ head to its launch in 2003 to Opportunity’s final moments in 2019. Originally slated to work for 90 days, both rovers far exceeded their original missions, with Opportunity in particular sticking around for more than a decade.
While Opportunity’s longevity is inspiring in itself, the film smartly steers away from ever getting too corny or sappy. It covers multiple potentially mission-ending issues as team members explain how they used science, creativity, and a bit of luck to solve them. The achievement isn’t just how this group flew rovers to Mars, but about how they use their problem solving skills to send instructions across space, like telling a rover stuck in Martian sand to gun it in reverse. Rather than shape a storybook ending, the scientists are matter-of-fact about Opportunity’s end. She worked until she didn’t.
It’s this mixture of science and heart, like analyzing rocks while also playing daily wake up songs in the control room and to the rovers, thatGood Night Oppy captures humanity so well. It’s a little nugget of us at our best, working hard, doing impossible things, and having a lot of fun.
Good Night Oppy interviews the key players from the mission, interspersing their memories with recorded footage from the time. Being that this was such a historic mission, it makes sense that there is so much footage from the control room. Still, it feels like you're getting a rare look into incredible humans doing what they love to do, and it illustrates clearly how much time and effort go into these precarious missions. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this documentary is that once the rovers are launched, there's no way to see them at work. The filmmakers smartly make use of computer animation to show the robots roaming the red planet, in what can only be described as Wall-E-like sequences, complete with sound effects that seem to evoke human emotions.
At its heart, the film is about the people that created and worked on the mission. Good Night Oppy is a feel good behind the scenes story about the team behind those press releases we may sporadically see in the news. Most of all, it’s a reminder of what we as humans can accomplish together, and that we are all at least a little fascinated by that mysterious dark sky.