Nova-Welcome To Mars (2004)
|On January 3, 2004, a tiny rover named Spirit crash-landed on the dusty surface of Mars and sent its first message home. The elation of the assembled scientists, as well as the behind-the-scenes engineering story leading up to the landing were captured by NOVA in its hugely popular documentary MARS Dead or Alive. That elation is the starting point for the highly anticipated sequel, Welcome to Mars, which follows the adventures of Spirit and Opportunity on the red planet. Once again, NOVA's producers enjoyed unprecedented access to the mission scientists at JPL as they wrestled with the technical crises that soon beset the rovers. All goes well until Spirit suddenly falls silent and then, inexplicably, starts spewing gibberish. For three agonizing days the engineers struggle to regain control of the unhinged rover before they finally solve the problem. Then Opportunity lands and sends back the image of an outcrop of bedrock just a few yards away. The rock turns out to be a crucial clue in the long quest to discover if there was once water and life on Mars. But the race to collect confirming data turns into an emotional rollercoaster for the engineers as they struggle to keep their earthly lives in synch with the longer day/night cycle of the red planet. Eventually, the evidence adds up, and after 40 years of speculation, NASA finally announces solid proof that Mars was once awash in water. Welcome to Mars presents a compelling inside story of triumph and technical ingenuity, full of scientfic and human drama, with stunning fresh images from an alien world.|
Editor's NoteIn January of 2004, NASA realized its long-standing ambition to explore the surface of Mars when two robotic rovers landed on the red planet to probe and beam back photographic imagery of its scorched terrain. The mission was almost derailed, however, when the first explorer, the Spirit rover, began experiencing technical difficulties, and the scientists themselves nearly unravelled from the demands of adjusting their earthbound circadian rhythms to Mars' longer day/night cycle. But with Spirit soon repaired and the second explorer, Opportunity, transmitting images of Mars' unique rock formations, the scientists' distress turned to elation as they discovered incontrovertible proof that there was once water (and possibly life) on the red planet. A sequel to MARS DEAD OR ALIVE--which detailed the rovers' preflight engineering--this episode of PBS' NOVA series follows the post-landing challenges and rewards of NASA's groundbreaking scientific achievement.