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‘Good Night Oppy’ Team Chronicles Mars Rover Mission— Toronto Studio – Deadline

Two Martian rovers launched in 2004, Opportunity and Spirit, were dispatched to the red planet with the intention that they would execute missions lasting 90 sols (Mars days). Fifteen Earth years and more than 5,000 Martian sols later, after a particularly harsh dust storm, contact was lost with the last of them, Opportunity, following an extraordinary extended lifetime of service. A new documentary, Good Night Oppy, charts the construction, launch and indefatigable resilience of the two robotic sisters. The team behind the film, as well as two scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab who had been involved with the construction and operation of the rovers, stopped by Deadline’s studio in Toronto to explain the magic and personality of these two Martian survivors.

“What’s special about Opportunity and Spirit is what they can mean to so many people,” producer Jessica Hargrave said. “They are robots, but they are so much more than that. For us, making the film and meeting the people who worked on them was what stuck out to us. If they were just robots and viewed as such, this wouldn’t be the film that it is.”

What became immediately apparent to director Ryan White was the way the scientists behind the Opportunity and Spirit missions anthropomorphized their robotic creations. “These robots are character-driven robots,” White said. “And that’s because the scientists and engineers behind them really did anthropomorphize them and connect with them in that type of way.”

Bekah Sosland Siegfriedt was 16 when she was afforded an opportunity to visit the Jet Propulsion Lab on the day the rovers landed on Mars. Her visit cemented a lifelong interest in space, and while those in the control room that day imagined that this particular mission would be over three months after it started, in fact, Sosland Siegfriedt was able to complete her education and land a job of her own at NASA, where she was involved in the operation of Opportunity before its service came to an end.

It was only when watching Good Night Oppy, she said, that she realized that she too had anthropomorphized her metallic charges. “We all really talk about the rovers like they are our kids,” she said. “We all talk about them the same way, and they all mean so much to us, it was really meaningful and touching to see that [in the film].”

For Kobie Boykins, who helped construct the rovers and had to adapt to the many technological challenges of getting them up and running, the relationship was complicated by the robots’ occasional obstinance. “I have this love-hate relationship with them,” Boykins said. “Before we got our name Spirit and Opportunity, we lovingly called them Beavis and Butt-head—not because we didn’t like one more than the other—there were problems and weird things they did from time to time. You get this feeling of, I want my child to do well, but I also want my child to leave. And by the time we got through the assembly test launch operations—graduation—it was six or seven minutes of terror trying to send this thing 300 million miles away to land in a crater. And then they got on the surface of Mars and sent us back their first pictures. It was amazing.”

The impact of the Opportunity and Spirit missions, as well as the extraordinary data they sent back from Mars’s surface, renewed interest in space exploration that continues to this day, as plans to send astronauts to Mars are discussed. Both Boykins and Sosland Siegfriedt feel the rovers should remain in their final resting places on the Martian surface; in honored tribute to the remarkable work they had done. “You look back at the mission and you see how that changed how people perceived what we were doing at that point in time on Mars,” Boykins said. “Missions to Mars had been very unsuccessful—we were at a 33% success rate going to Mars, and we’ve literally changed that number over the last two decades to be almost 50%, which is amazing.”

The Deadline Studio is sponsored by dr Liza + the[fix] and Watford Group. Special thanks to our partner Soluna.

Destiny Jackson contributed to this report.