As NASA moves forward with its latest rover on Mars, a new film is looking back at the agency's past "opportunity" to explore the Red Planet.
"Good Night Oppy," an upcoming feature-length documentary produced by Amazon Studios, Film 45, Amblin Television and Tripod Media, will tell the story of Opportunity, one of NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rovers, and the connection that grew between the robotic explorer and the people who built and ran it. Ryan White ("The Case Against 8," "Assassins") is directing the film, now in production.
"I grew up on films like 'E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial' and 'Wall-E,' so to make a documentary with similar themes of wonder and awe has been a joy," White said in a statement released by Amazon Studios on Friday (March 5). "We're thrilled to work with Amazon to bring the story of Oppy and her humans to global audiences of all ages."
Launched in July 2003, one month after its twin rover, Spirit, departed for Mars, Opportunity landed in the Meridiani Planum region of the planet on Jan. 24, 2004. Designed to function for 90 Martian days (or sols) and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity surpassed all expectations with its endurance, scientific value and longevity.
Exceeding its life expectancy 60 times over, the six-wheeled, golf-cart-sized rover traveled 28 miles (45 kilometers), farther than any previous wheeled rover.
All along, Opportunity sought out evidence of water at sites where conditions may have once been favorable for the emergence of Martian life. Opportunity's discoveries implied that conditions at Meridiani Planum may have been habitable for some period of time in the planet's history.
Opportunity ceased communicating with Earth on June 10, 2018, when a Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location at "Perseverance Valley," a shallow channel incised from the rim's crest of Endeavour crater's floor. After sending more than a thousand commands in an attempt to restore contact, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) Space Flight Operations Facility made their last go at raising Opportunity on Feb. 12, 2019.
The next day, without a response, Opportunity's mission was declared complete, completing a 15-year journey across Mars' surface.
The last message that the rover sent — as paraphrased in a reporter's tweet that went viral — was, "My battery is low and it's getting dark."
The story of "Good Night Oppy," according to Amazon Studios, is "one of a robot traveling a planet on her own, but driven (literally) by the connection and extreme bond that formed between human and machine."
"It was impossible not to fall in love with the story of Oppy — one of hope, ambition, adventure and exceeded expectations, and an exploration of the special relationship between mankind and technology," Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey, co-presidents of Amblin Television said in the same statement.
JPL, which most recently landed NASA's Perseverance rover on Mars in February, is supporting the "Good Night Oppy" filmmakers, providing access and unique footage, as well as sharing its scientists' expertise and knowledge about Opportunity's mission. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) is creating visual effects for the documentary, which promises to transport viewers to Mars alongside Opportunity.
"The innovation and determination that made Oppy's journey possible, and the spirit of discovery that drives the team at JPL, are an inspiration," said Jennifer Salke, head of Amazon Studios. "As we celebrate their achievements, we are delighted to also be working with the extremely talented filmmaker Ryan White, and our friends at Amblin Television and Film 45 to bring this heartwarming story to life."
Follow collectSPACE.com on Facebook and on Twitter at @collectSPACE. Copyright 2021 collectSPACE.com. All rights reserved.
Get the Space.com Newsletter
Breaking space news, the latest updates on rocket launches, skywatching events and more!
Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.