In January of 2004, two golf cart sized rovers, named Spirit and Opportunity, were dropped onto the surface of Mars. Their mission was to spend 90 Earth days (which was how long the two solar-powered landers were expected to last) investigating the local geology. Controlled remotely from Earth, they carried equipment to search for signs of water, to dig beneath the Martian surface and to perform basic chemistry tests on Martian soil. Functioning for over five years, the rovers wildly exceeded the expectations of their designers.
National Geographic does a fantastic job of relaying the amazing story of Spirit and Opportunity. Extensive interviews with NASA personnel do much to bring the story to life, capturing the struggles, triumphs and emotion of managing such an epic undertaking. It’s hard not to get caught up in each twist and turn of the rover’s story as they overcome obstacles, climb mountains and endure dust storms and harsh winters. For golf cart sized robots on another planet, they make for surprisingly likeable protagonists. The story is intended for popular, rather than professional, consumption, and as such provides a cursory rather than detailed explanation of the science involved. Highly recommended for anyone interested in astronomy, but any fan of documentaries would enjoy this as well. Those interested in another similar documentary might check out Direct from the Moon. For more detailed information on the rovers, Roving Mars by Steve Squyres (which we don’t own but can get via Interlibrary Loan), is a good book to pickup. If you’re looking for something a bit more playful from the red planet, try In the Courts of the Crimson Kings by S.M. Stirling or The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker.
Description: Fascinating and oddly moving story of the Mars rovers. The only pitfall is that it doesn’t include the rovers’ most recent activities: you’ll have to Google that. 🙂