Expedition Mars (2016) Movie Script

NARRATOR: In 2002,
Mars was a spacecraft graveyard.
STEVE: At that time
two out of three of the missions
that had flown had failed.
NARRATOR: Spirit and Opportunity
were up next,
and they were in trouble.
MAN (off screen): Ohh!
-ADAM: Well, the drop was successful.
-MAN: Yeah.
The fact that the parachute exploded,
not a good thing.
STEVE: To me it's a miracle
that they got to Mars at all.
NARRATOR: But they did,
and then they just wouldn't quit.
SCOTT: Betting against the rovers
is a good way to lose money.
I don't do it.
NARRATOR: That was 15 years ago.
JOHN: This is like a car going
a million miles without an oil change.
I mean, it's just phenomenal.
NARRATOR: Now their mission is over,
and they've opened
the Martian frontier for good.
ADAM: Their persistence
and the discoveries,
meant we were going back.
NARRATOR: Spirit and Opportunity,
the legendary rovers
that conquered Mars.
Expected to last a few months,
they lasted years.
They climbed mountains
and crater walls,
survived dust storms,
frigid nights, and broken wheels.
Intrepid explorers,
destined for greatness
from the day they were conceived.
At least, that's the way it seems now.
STEVE: It was always gonna happen.
It was always gonna be a big success,
it was nothing like that at the start.
I-I-I didn't even know if we were
gonna get to Cape Canaveral.
If we were gonna get to the launch pad.
There were times when it looked like
we were just dead in the water.
NARRATOR: In the beginning,
long before they were heroes,
Spirit and Opportunity
were a last ditch effort
to prove that NASA
could still handle Mars.
ADAM: They started really as a...
I wouldn't say an act of desperation,
but we had our backs against the wall.
NARRATOR: In 1999, NASA suffered
two embarrassing failures on Mars,
an orbiter that lost its way
thanks to a mix-up
between English and metric units,
and a lander that may have
cut off its engines too soon.
ROB: We never heard from it,
we never figured out what happened to it.
So, in late 1999 the Mars program
was a complete shambles.
NARRATOR: Facing questions about
whether Mars was still worth the risk,
NASA scrubbed most of its plans
and debated the next step.
ADAM: It was in a place
where we could just fold up shop
and say forget about it.
And so we looked at
our playbook and we said,
"Well, what has worked for us
in the recent epoch?"
Well, it was this Pathfinder mission.
NARRATOR: Mars Pathfinder
was a low-budget experiment
by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
just before the two failed missions.
ROB: We were setting out
to prove that it was possible
to build something really simple
and easy to land on Mars.
It was exciting, a small team,
we were doing things
that no one ever had done before.
NARRATOR: The goal was to invent
a new way of landing on Mars
using airbags,
with a fold-up lander inside
carrying a small rover
the size of a microwave oven.
ADAM: It had been 20 years
since anybody had landed on Mars.
The guys who did Pathfinder
were making it up from scratch.
And they were young.
-(indistinct radio chatter)
NARRATOR: On the 4th of July, 1997,
they pulled it off,
and the little rover
was a big hit with the public.
So a Pathfinder follow-up
looked like good bet
to restore confidence
in Mars exploration.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
in Pasadena, California
would design and build the spacecraft,
land it on Mars, and run the mission
once it got there.
And a planetary scientist
named Steve Squyres
would lead the science team
with a new approach to exploring Mars.
STEVE: With a couple of failures behind us
and a lot of uncertainty ahead of us
there was an enormous amount of attention
focused on our mission.
I don't know what would have happened
if we had failed.
It would not have been good.
NARRATOR: Squyres produced this animation
to show all the stakeholders
how everything was supposed to work,
from the fiery entry into the atmosphere
all the way to the ground.
STEVE: The idea was
the original Pathfinder lander,
with the Pathfinder airbags,
the Pathfinder parachute,
and we'd just put
something different inside.
On Mars Pathfinder, the lander
was where the computer was,
that was where the brains were,
that was where
the bulk of the instruments were.
The thing that made this mission
different was the rovers.
What we did was
put the biggest rover
we could possibly fit inside that lander.
And everything moves.
Everything travels with you as you go.
All your instruments,
your power system and your computer.
And that enables true exploration.
NARRATOR: This rover would do
more than just land on Mars.
It would explore, like a geologist,
searching for clues
to whether Mars was ever a place
that could have supported life.
NASA decided to build not one,
but two of these robot geologists
to double the chances of success,
and by the time they approved the plan,
the schedule was already tight.
As they orbit the sun,
Earth and Mars get close enough
to launch a mission
just once every 26 months.
Miss that chance and you have to wait
another 26 months.
Their deadline was the summer of 2003,
less than three years away.
STEVE: We put a team together.
I mean, it's the first time
I'd done anything,
so as a rookie principal investigator
I had a lot to learn.
And not much time to learn it.
We had to succeed.
That was just all there was to it.
We had to succeed.
The way we did it was by
pushing an incredibly talented team
harder than
they ever should have been pushed.
People were working insane hours.
We were all so committed,
that we just poured
everything we had into it.
NARRATOR: One of the toughest jobs
fell to the team responsible
for something that was supposed
to be straightforward,
making the already proven
Pathfinder landing system
work with the new rovers.
ADAM: Normally when we develop a mission
we have about five years.
We only had about three years
at the outset
for Spirit and Opportunity,
very tight time line.
We thought it would be okay
because we were reusing
this Pathfinder landing system.
I was young and hungry
with a relatively fresh-minted PhD.
I found myself positioned to lead
the mechanical engineering
for the landing system,
which meant learning about parachutes
and learning about airbags
and learning about rockets
and heat shields.
Learning about a whole bunch of new stuff
that I hadn't learned in school.
NARRATOR: Entry, descent and landing,
EDL for short,
covers everything from entering
the Martian atmosphere to touchdown.
The trouble started
with the Pathfinder airbags.
ADAM: We intended to use
the exact same technique,
in fact the exact same airbags.
We were going to just
rebuild those airbags.
NARRATOR: For the first test
they found a spare set of bags
left over from Pathfinder.
ADAM: We wanted to get some testing
under our belts really quickly.
We used the world's
largest vacuum chamber,
100 feet tall and 75 feet wide
that we can pump down to Mars conditions
and throw these inflated bags
at a simulated Martian surface,
sort of a worst-case
Martian landing site.
We thought for sure
that they would prove out.
-CONTROLLER (over radio): JPL?
-MAN (over radio): Ready.
ADAM: We inflated them.
And we see the airbags impact the surface
and as they roll away
you can see this gaping hole.
That was a bummer.
Now very quickly we said,
"Oh, but those bags are old."
We have to have to build
some fresh bags and come back.
And we did that.
And the next test,
looking through the same cameras,
boom, a big hole
as the bags roll away.
Now we're starting to feel the pressure.
NARRATOR: Then came the parachutes.
ADAM: We were testing them
at National Guard Gunnery Range
south of Boise, Idaho.
We lift our test vehicle
with the parachute on it.
We get it up to altitude,
we let go of the test vehicle.
We see a beautiful inflation
of the parachute and then...
MAN (off screen): Ohh!
ADAM: Wow!
It's another... "oh, shoot" moment.
Uh, well, I mean, the drop was successful.
The fact that the parachute exploded,
not a good thing.
MAN: Well, yeah, but I'd rather
have it happen here than...
-ADAM: Mars. That's right.
-MAN: Yeah.
Unfortunately, strictly speaking,
that chute that just exploded
was the chute that we were
planning on taking to Mars.
I believe it was that very day
we had another test article,
strapped it in, put it up, dropped it...
and, boom...
MAN (off screen): Ohh!
ADAM: ...it blows up again.
And we're back to the hotel,
all hands on deck,
so we can start to try
and pull apart this puzzle
of why are we blowing up our parachutes.
STEVE: We're ripping airbags,
we're exploding parachutes.
There's not a single thing
I can do about that.
That's in the hands
of capable engineers.
It's their job to go off
and solve the problems.
And... all you can do is hope.
ADAM: We are scrambling
to find the time and the brainpower
to do these redesigns
of things that we thought
we'd be able to fly again.
NARRATOR: It didn't take long
to discover the problem.
The rovers were bigger
and heavier than expected,
and had outgrown
the old Pathfinder landing system.
STEVE: Once we realized
how big the rover had to be
to do the job that we had
agreed to have it do,
everything had to change.
We needed a new lander.
We needed new airbags.
We needed new parachutes.
And that, so that busted our schedule
and, uh, busted our budget.
Meanwhile, the scientists had to decide
where on Mars they should
send the rovers to investigate
whether it ever had the water
necessary for life.
One possibility was a flat plain
called Meridiani Planum
where orbiters detected a mineral
that could have formed in water.
STEVE: The Meridiani site
was not a sure thing by any means.
The main thing that it had going for it,
was that it was smooth and flat
and the winds weren't very high.
And so it looked like a safe place to land
and a safe place to drive around.
NARRATOR: A more exciting target
was Gusev Crater
which appeared to be a dried up lake bed.
STEVE: Gusev is a big crater,
160 kilometers in diameter
and there's a dry river bed
flowing into it.
Now there's no water
in that river now.
There hasn't been for billions of years
but it's-it's a big hole in the ground
with a dry river flowing into it.
There has to have been a lake there.
NARRATOR: The downside to Gusev was wind.
ADAM: Side winds could make
our system swing in the breeze.
And if we lit our rockets up
when we were swinging
we could really
start moving ourselves sideways
and tear the bags apart.
NARRATOR: In Gusev Crater,
they'd have to counteract the wind
with steering rockets.
And they'd need extra high performance
from the airbags and parachutes.
After more than a year
of intensive work,
the landing team was back
at the vacuum chamber.
(indistinct radio chatter)
The airbags had been
completely redesigned
to handle the worst-case scenarios
on Mars.
MAN 1 (off screen): Release.
MAN 2 (off screen): That looks good.
(indistinct chatter)
-TOM: This is awesome!
-ADAM: This is awesome.
We're looking now at...
TOM (off screen):
That's... I mean, it's perfect.
There's not a tear.
NARRATOR: Sacrificial layers of Vectran,
a high-tech synthetic,
absorbed the impact from the rocks.
ADAM (off screen):
This is a glorious pass.
NARRATOR: It worked like
a bulletproof vest
protecting a double inner bladder
holding the air.
ADAM: We're talking
about 100 percent margin.
The airbags were ready for Mars.
MAN (off screen): That is beautiful.
NARRATOR: By then the team believed
they'd also solved the parachute problem,
but they still had to prove it.
After our parachute failures in Boise
we needed a way of testing more rapidly
and in more controlled environments.
We turned to the world's largest
wind tunnel.
It's a huge eight-story tall,
120-foot-wide test section.
We have a big post
that sits up in the middle
and it holds our parachute canister
like the one we would use
going to Mars.
NARRATOR: They'd spent months
designing and building
a new set of high-performance parachutes,
and there was no time
for any more setbacks.
ADAM: This test is the big deal.
You know, if we have a failure here
that's gonna start
a measure of desperation
we never wanna find ourselves in, so...
NARRATOR: With the fans blowing
at up to 100 miles an hour,
a parachute inflates with the same force
it would experience at supersonic speed
in the thin atmosphere of Mars.
AL: ...two, one, fire.
ADAM: Come on, come on.
WAYNE: That's...
CONTROLLER (over radio):
Strong oscillation on the strut.
ADAM (off screen):
What is that? What is that?
It's called squidding
in the parachute community.
This was the first time I'd ever seen it.
This was the first time
a lot of folks had ever seen it.
We were dumbfounded
as to what to do.
It's super, super, super, mega...
This is super mega bummer.
Just when we thought we were there,
just about to cross the finish line,
out of nowhere this thing comes.
It certainly was the worst feelings
I'd had thus far in the project.
When this thing wouldn't inflate
there were dozens of possibilities
of what it might be
and we didn't know what it was.
I kinda thought I might be staring
at the end of this project
because if we didn't
find a solution for this...
we weren't going to Mars.
When the parachute failed to open,
it looked like the mission might be over.
Supersonic chute problems
can be nightmares to unravel.
Fortunately, this puzzle
had a simple solution.
The vent hole at the top of the chute
was a little too big.
When they got it right,
they were back in business.
ADAM: What we discovered quite rapidly
was that this parachute,
has plenty of reserve strength
and good inflation characteristics,
and this is the parachute
we're gonna take to Mars.
NARRATOR: By January 2003,
the parachutes were qualified for flight,
just five months before launch.
For the landing team,
the biggest issues were now behind them.
But each problem solved
was a reminder of how fine the line was
between success and failure.
STEVE: Each time we would hit a problem,
you know, we'd find a solution,
but you never know when you're gonna hit
that one that's gonna end it all.
Any day now there may be a test failure,
something goes wrong
and you go, "All right, we're done."
You know, that was scary.
NARRATOR: The rovers,
science instruments, and spacecraft
had all gone through a grueling regimen
of testing, and retesting,
a relentless search
for anything and everything
that could possibly go wrong.
It was understood that a failed mission
would be worse than no mission at all.
Having had two missions before us fail
the view that I think existed
in NASA headquarters
and in retrospect it makes
a lot of sense to me now,
it made less sense at the time,
was that it would be better
to simply not fly the things
than to take
an unacceptable level of risk.
(thunder rumbling)
NARRATOR: Four months before launch,
the rovers moved to
Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
STEVE: Everything changed
when we got to Florida.
There's this do or die sense
about what you're doing.
When we put the rovers together
we put 'em together
and took 'em apart multiple times.
When you get to Florida
you put it all together for the last time.
And every fastener
that gets torqued down,
every connector
that gets mated, that's it.
And you do that,
even that simple task wrong
and you got a problem when you get to Mars
that you can never fix.
NARRATOR: Spirit was set to launch first,
but with just a few weeks to go,
they hit a snag.
STEVE: You knew something
was gonna be the last big problem.
You don't know what it's gonna be.
But our last big problem
was a real big one.
It involved the electrical circuits
that trigger pyros,
the explosive fasteners that release
dozens of secured parts
during and after landing.
The circuits had all been tested
with live pyros,
but late in the game they discovered
that the next time they tried to use them,
on Mars, they might not work.
STEVE: It turns out that the way
the electronics were designed
there was a chance
that some of these tests
would have irreparably damaged
components inside the rover.
And the problem was
our schedule was now so tight,
we were so close to the end
we couldn't even get inside the rover
to see if those components
were okay or not.
The rover is ready
to go to the launch pad.
It would take weeks
to take the thing apart.
And it would blow our schedule.
We wouldn't be able to launch.
This could threaten the whole mission.
I mean, these things could...
The rovers could end up
in the Air and Space Museum over this.
Okay, if we're not able
to launch these things now
it may not make sense to ever fly them.
The only way to tell if any tests
had damaged the rovers
was to find all the pyros ever fired
and check them for short circuits.
STEVE: And so there was
this treasure hunt,
and people were going in bags and shelves
and pulling things apart,
and gradually piece by piece
they were found,
the last one, the critical one
that we needed to prove
that we were really okay
was found yesterday.
You know, three days before launch
and we're still sweating these resistors.
It was, it was awful.
NARRATOR: The deadline had arrived.
To hit their targets on Mars,
each rover would have to
launch in its own three-week window,
one after the other.
STEVE: And if we didn't get off
in that three-week stretch of time
we weren't gonna have a chance
to launch again for 26 months.
So we had to launch
in that launch window.
NARRATOR: They'd get two chances each day
over a span of 40 minutes,
and anything from weather
to rocket problems
could force them to scrub
and lose a day of the window.
After five days of bad weather,
Spirit was ready to go.
STEVE: A very, very, very large fraction
of launches succeed.
But the success rate is not 100 percent
and there's a chance
that you're gonna have a bad day
and everything that you worked for
just, poof, it's gone.
WOMAN (off screen): Whoo!
ADAM: Everyone's excited,
everyone's hot and sweaty.
Um, everyone's a little nervous.
MAN (over radio): NSC reports
spacecraft go, spacecraft is go.
-MAN (off screen): 20 seconds.
-BOY (off screen): 20 seconds.
ADAM: And there's this moment
where you realize, that's it.
You know pencils down,
it's over, it's going to Mars.
MAN (over radio):
Nine, eight, seven, six, greenboard.
CROWD: Five, four, three, two, one.
MAN (over radio): Engines start,
and lift off of the Delta II rocket
carrying the Spirit from Earth
to planet Mars.
(crowd cheering)
MAN (over radio): ...vehicles responding.
KOBE: Yeah!
Get going!
(woman yelling indistinctly)
ADAM (off screen): Beautiful!
PRASUN: Come on, baby.
Come on, baby.
ADAM: Keep going.
PRASUN: Come on, man.
-(baby crying)
MAN (over radio):
We're approaching Mach 1,
we've exceed supersonic speed
and the engine positions look good.
MAN: Awesome!
-JUAN: Cha-ching!
-MAN (off screen) Cha-ching.
MAN (over radio):
Onboard video system working perfectly
sending back an immaculate image.
We're now passing an altitude
of four nautical miles
with a downrange distance 15.
NARRATOR: Opportunity was up next.
A series of problems with the rocket
had eaten up most of the launch window,
and it was close to now or never.
STEVE: This is it.
It was night, we're out on the beach.
We're ready to go.
-MAN (over radio): ...20 seconds.
-STEVE: 20 seconds!
We get into the final count...
MAN (over radio): T-minus ten, nine...
STEVE: You know, you're into
the ten, nine, eight, seven part of it
and you're just about to go
and at seven seconds to go
they called a hold.
MAN 1 (over radio):
We're going into recycle.
MAN 2 (over radio):
And the clock is stopped.
STEVE: They halted the countdown
seven seconds before liftoff
because of a problem with the rocket,
and then you can't go.
Seven seconds!
You know, this thing
is a bomb poised to explode.
And as soon as they scrubbed
at T-minus seven seconds
I thought, "Oh, man, that's it."
MAN (over radio):
NSC reports spacecraft go.
-STEVE: But they managed to pull it back.
-MAN (over radio): Spacecraft is go.
STEVE: And 40 minutes later, off we went.
MAN (over radio):
Engine position looks good,
recovering nicely
from the liftoff transients.
STEVE: It was just
emotionally overwhelming
in a way that I never anticipated.
MAN (over radio):
And the solid rocket motors
are increasing their thrust.
STEVE: We had put so much
of ourselves into those things.
For so many years.
And then you put it on top of a rocket
and you launch it and it is gone.
MAN (over radio): Main engine
chamber pressures holding steady,
and the vernier engines
are continuing to burn well.
STEVE: It's as gone as anything
you've ever done is going to be.
And it sounds strange to say,
it felt strange at the time
but it was really hard to say goodbye.
MAN (over radio):
And we're now past Mach 1,
the vehicle is now traveling
faster than the speed of sound.
After a seven-month journey from Earth,
Spirit was about to hit
the top of the Martian atmosphere
at 12,000 miles an hour.
Six minutes later
it would be on the ground.
MAN (over radio): Flight Director
Jason Willis reporting that
all systems are go for entry,
descent and landing.
We're currently...
NARRATOR: With a radio delay
of almost ten minutes each way,
there could be no help from Earth.
Each step was preprogrammed
in Spirit's computer.
STEVE: Landing on Mars,
there really is nothing you can do.
You know, they call it the control room
but the one thing we don't have
is any control.
was about to find out
whether the system that worked on Earth
would work on Mars.
ADAM: You can't fully test
the landing system here on Earth.
It's all been analysis, pen and paper,
computer simulations.
Piece-part tests.
But you string it all together only once
in the skies above Mars.
STEVE: There were many things that could
kill us in the process of landing.
A gust of wind at the wrong moment,
a sharp pointy rock.
You can do everything right
and Mars can still kill you.
MAN (over radio):
...entry. Five, four, three...
ADAM: And so as we go we're looking
for certain signs from the spacecraft.
MAN (over radio): The vehicle has now
hit the top of the Martian atmosphere.
We are now at an altitude of 73 miles
moving at a speed of
12,192 miles per hour.
STEVE: You're following what's happening.
You're hoping you got it all right.
You're hoping it's all gonna work.
MAN (over radio): Parachute deployed.
ADAM: You get signals from the spacecraft
that it's executing all of its functions
all the way down to impacting the surface.
MAN (over radio): Signal indicates
we are bouncing on the surface of Mars.
-This is a very good sign.
STEVE: We saw a radio signal.
The thing was bouncing on the surface.
MAN (over radio):
Hang on, everybody, please be quiet.
We don't see a signal at the moment.
No signal at the moment.
STEVE: But then it went silent.
MAN (over radio):
Please stand by, stand by.
STEVE: There was
a significant stretch of time
in which there was no signal
from the vehicle.
MAN (over radio): Deep Space Network
tracking stations
are still searching
for the primary signal.
STEVE: That was a very,
very tense period.
ADAM: And we wait...
as if the spacecraft's dead.
And then we get the signal.
And the room erupts.
It actually worked.
(indistinct excited chatter)
NARRATOR: In a few hours
pictures started coming down.
MAN (over radio): Oh, wow, look at that!
Spirit was an international celebrity.
ROB: Ohh, yes!
NARRATOR: Opportunity would be
arriving in three weeks.
And for a while,
everything was perfect on Mars.
STEVE: Everything worked,
everything worked.
All the hardware worked,
all our operations processes worked.
The rover did what we asked it to do.
Everything's going great
and then 18 days into the mission
it all just stopped.
CONTROLLER (over radio): I'm not seeing
anything from our displays.
You're not seeing
any signal at this time?
MAN (over radio):
That's a negative.
CONTROLLER: Uh, copy that.
Let's look for it still.
STEVE: 18 days in, silence.
Nothing from the vehicle.
Not a clue about what had happened,
just silence.
So we got a problem.
NARRATOR: Normally, Spirit would talk
to JPL through the Deep Space Network,
once or twice a day.
Instructions went up from Earth,
and data came back from Mars,
until it stopped...
for two long days, and then...
ACE (over radio): Flight, station reported
that they're seeing signal at 1-4...
NARRATOR: A few garbled signals
from Spirit.
The first clues
to what might be going on.
STEVE: What became clear
over a period of a day or two
was that for unknown reasons,
the computer onboard
was crashing and rebooting
over and over and over and over again.
And it was doing it through the night.
Which means the computer is coming up
and it's sucking power
out of the batteries.
At night you got no sun
on the solar arrays
you're just pulling the battery down.
And you can only survive that
for a few days
before the vehicle is done.
And so we were in a death spiral.
NARRATOR: Bad news was coming
from all directions at JPL that night.
Spirit was not the only one in danger.
With Opportunity still a few days away,
the EDL team had been poring over data
from Spirit's landing
to see if everything
had gone according to plan.
ADAM: We saw something
we didn't expect.
We saw something wrong.
NARRATOR: The lander had taken longer
than expected to descend on its bridle.
Spirit got away with it,
but Opportunity might not be as lucky.
WAYNE: This is obviously something
that'll have to be investigated
to determine what has happened here.
ADAM: We were working
literally full team, 24/7
doing tests in the vacuum chamber
trying to understand what had happened.
In the end we couldn't.
The buzzer went off
and we ran out of time.
NARRATOR: All they could do
was open the chute a bit earlier
to buy some extra time on the way down.
That would mean inflating it higher up,
at higher velocity,
putting even more stress
on the parachute.
STEVE: We're talking 48 hours
before landing
about changing the parachute
deployment parameters,
so we'll deploy high enough
that we won't smack
into the ground too hard.
Um, that was a little nerve-wracking.
ROB: I have to admit,
I did not sleep very well last night,
uh, because this is exactly
what's going on in my mind,
you know, how can we have, what if
we have two disasters on our hands?
I mean, all this,
all this wonderful excitement
and suddenly we would lose everything.
NARRATOR: They uplinked
new instructions to Opportunity,
now less than 24 hours away,
and hoped for the best.
TRACY (over radio): We're thinking
there's a problem with the software.
NARRATOR: In mission control,
they had finally detected a pattern
in the signals coming down from Spirit.
STEVE: The rover is sending us
only real time data.
In other words, it's telling us
this is what's happening to me now.
This is what's happening to me now.
This is what's happening to me now.
It's telling us nothing
about what had happened before.
NARRATOR: A bug in the memory software
could be forcing Spirit
into this endless cycle
of crashing and rebooting.
So they came up with a command
that would bypass the memory altogether.
DIRECTOR (over radio):
Flight, Mission, you're go.
Copy your go, Mission,
ACE you're clear to command.
ACE: Copy, Flight, radiation on my mark.
Three, two, one, mark.
STEVE: This was a guess.
This was an inspired guess
and nothing more.
Maybe this will help.
CONTROLLER (over radio): Flight ACE,
we have locked on telemetry, 1-4-5-4-1-4.
STEVE: And it worked.
MAN (off screen): Copy that.
(indistinct radio chatter)
JENNIFER: Like a well-oiled machine,
isn't it? (laughs)
NARRATOR: With a software patch,
Spirit would soon be back to normal.
MARK: We have partial control
of the vehicle.
STEVE: We have got a way
of talking to the vehicle now
so that it responds appropriately.
It has regained its sanity.
And that's a good feeling.
NARRATOR: Now it was
Opportunity's moment of truth.
ADAM: We start clicking
through the events,
touching the top of the atmosphere,
opening up our parachute...
...all the way down to the surface.
(indistinct radio chatter)
We don't hear from the spacecraft...
and then we do.
(indistinct radio chatter)
I would like it very much
much if we could go together,
to the press conference.
For Spirit the first landing
when the team had gone down
to watch the press conference
we'd been barred
because it was at full capacity.
This time I said, "No...
we're gonna go down together."
We got to the theater
and there were security
and they said,
"I'm sorry, can't let you in."
GUARD: You can't come in.
ADAM: I said, "I'm sorry,"
and we just walked in.
-(yelling indistinctly)
SEAN: To the Mars Exploration Rover team,
the best in the world, no doubt about it.
NARRATOR: Spirit and Opportunity
were finally on Mars,
but now they had to produce.
The mission plan was for just
90 sols, 90 Martian days.
Dust on the solar panels
was the biggest threat,
but there are many ways to die on Mars.
STEVE: You never know when these things
are gonna drop dead.
You know, they could die tomorrow.
They could be dead right now
and we just haven't gotten
the downlink that shows it yet.
Very nice from the looks of it.
NARRATOR: The rover teams
at JPL approached
each sol as if it might be the last.
SCOTT: We were impressed
very early with the idea
that the rovers were
under a death sentence.
We knew that there was a kind
of clock that was counting down,
and that at the end of 90 sols,
like that was all the time
that we could count on
that we were gonna get.
And we didn't even know
if we'd get all that.
NARRATOR: The objective was to learn
whether Mars ever had
the water necessary for life.
It's been a frozen desert
for billions of years,
but the surface is scarred
with ancient river channels and deltas.
What was it like
billions of years ago?
STEVE: How much water was there?
What was its chemistry?
Suppose you were a microbe,
would you have liked that place or not?
If so, why?
They sent Spirit to Gusev Crater
in the southern hemisphere
because it looked like
a dried up lake bed,
and they hoped to find evidence
in the rocks to prove it.
On the ground, though,
there was nothing but volcanic rubble.
STEVE: I wouldn't have wanted
to admit it at the time,
but the Spirit landing site
initially was a crushing disappointment.
We went there looking for
layered sedimentary rocks
laid down billions of years ago
in a Martian lake
and instead we got lava
as far as the eye could see.
And every damn rock
was like every other damn rock.
They were just all the same.
And the thought was,
"Well, we can go to an impact crater."
And the impact will have
punched through the lava
and down into the good stuff
that lies underneath.
And we spent 60 sols
driving to an impact crater
and we look inside and it's full of lava.
HAP: We hoped for something
a little more spectacular than this.
I'm gonna be surprised if we decide
to drive down into the crater.
We might, but I don't know.
STEVE: It really was
a bitter disappointment.
And, uh, the Spirit team
got a little disheartened after a while.
Opportunity got off to a better start,
touching down near the equator
in a place called Meridiani Planum,
bouncing for a quarter mile,
and scoring
an interplanetary hole-in-one.
At JPL they waited
for the first pictures.
PETE: Look at this!
STEVE: We open our eyes and there's this
astounding outcrop of layered bedrock
right in front of the vehicle.
That outcrop in the distance
is just is out of this world.
I can't wait to get there.
It was like nothing
anyone had ever seen.
Everybody had their idea
of what Mars looked like,
and it's like, "What the hell is that?"
It was just alien.
This is an unusual Martian rock,
at least compared to
what we've seen everywhere else.
The fact that these rocks are layered
says that one possible origin for these
is that they were laid down
in liquid water.
We do not know what's going on here,
but the beauty of it is,
we have preserved in front of us
a record that will answer that,
and we have on our rover
a toolkit of gizmos
that will tell us that answer.
NARRATOR: The rovers carry the toolkit
of a high-tech field geologist.
There's a suite of instruments
on the end of the arm
to identify rocks and minerals.
They see the world in three dimensions
with four pairs of stereo cameras.
There's a high-resolution camera
for color panoramas,
stitched together
from individual frames.
Filters enhance details
invisible to human eyes,
and a spectrometer scans for minerals
that may have formed in water.
They have black and white stereovision
for navigation and planning.
And below the deck, fisheye cameras
see Mars at ground level,
looking backward and forward.
Opportunity headed for the outcrop,
and soon made some startling discoveries.
STEVE: It was like being inside
this bizarre Martian mystery novel,
where every sol or two you get
a new clue handed to you.
NARRATOR: First, tiny spheres
the size of BB's,
littering the ground and embedded
in the rock like blueberries in a muffin.
STEVE: It was such a surprise.
I mean, what the heck
were those things?
They turned out to be hematite,
the mineral seen from orbit
that drew them here in the first place.
On Earth it forms spheres like these
in water-soaked rocks.
Then they found sulfur-rich minerals
that can only form in contact with water.
And finally, petrified ripples
created by flowing water,
frozen in time as sand turned to stone.
It all pointed to a time
billions of years ago
when water, actually, sulfuric acid,
soaked the ground and sometimes
flowed across the surface.
STEVE: It was a new Mars.
There wasn't a single one of us
who expected what we found.
Anybody who tells you so is lying.
Almost everything was a surprise.
We were giddy, we were incredulous.
We were sleep-deprived beyond words.
It was so tiring.
But we were just
running on adrenaline.
And it was just so much fun.
It was the most fun I've ever had
as a scientist, it was just fabulous.
NARRATOR: Opportunity's team
declared victory
and moved on to a new target nearby,
while Spirit was still marooned
in the wasteland of Gusev Crater.
STEVE: They were on
different sides of the planet.
They were two very different sites
and they had two
incredibly different experiences.
It was tough on the Spirit guys.
And for a long time the Opportunity team
was the happy team
and the Spirit team was not so happy.
You know, I'd tell 'em,
"Well, you switch to Opportunity."
And they'd say,
"No, no, I'm not gonna."
Because they had gotten
their heart set on Spirit succeeding.
SCOTT: Opportunity was
certainly the lucky rover.
But for me I worked on Spirit,
and Spirit is my favorite rover,
because Spirit had to work
for everything she ever got in her life.
NARRATOR: Squyres knew
that Spirit had to move,
and the hills on the horizon
looked like the only chance
to salvage the mission.
STEVE: The Columbia Hills are
two and a half kilometers away.
The vehicle was designed to go
600 meters over its lifetime.
Okay? That's four times
the designed requirement.
That's a long, long distance.
We didn't know
if the vehicle could do it.
The engineers were skeptical.
ROB: I remember he said that.
This is where we're going.
What do you mean, you're gonna
drive up on those hills?
(scoffs) This is gonna be
a lot more than 90 days.
Good luck.
We're probably gonna die
on the way there.
He said, "No, we're gonna go."
I said, "Okay. You're driving.
You've got the keys. Good luck."
STEVE: We're 100 sols
into our 90-sol mission.
The warranty has expired.
Our only chance
of getting to something new
was to push the vehicle
beyond anything it had
ever been designed to handle.
Otherwise it was gonna be
just lava until the end of the mission.
NARRATOR: While Spirit
trekked to the Columbia Hills,
Opportunity faced a new challenge.
STEVE: Endurance Crater
scared the hell out of me
the first time I saw it.
We pulled up to the lip of that thing,
and there were vertical cliffs in places.
You know, it's the kinda place
where if we screwed up,
you know a little rover
could fall off a cliff and die.
NARRATOR: But the exposed bedrock
down below was an irresistible target.
STEVE: Oh, my God!
It's like a whole new mission.
NARRATOR: Deeper rocks offer a chance
to look farther back in Martian history.
We didn't bring a drill rig to Mars,
but Mars has dug
these wonderful holes for us
in the form of impact craters,
and they are our window
into the subsurface.
We all wanted to go in.
I mean, we're standing on the lip
of the most magnificent thing
anyone's ever seen on Mars,
with a rover that we all believe
in our hearts can do it.
Everybody wanted to go into the crater,
but you wanna do it right.
Driving in was not the issue.
The question was whether
Opportunity could get back out,
because the rovers
were never expected climb.
ROB: We never had to test it
to its limits before.
All we had to do was
test to the requirements.
We had to convince our management here
and at NASA headquarters
that we weren't gonna damage
this vehicle or get stuck.
MATT: I mean, frankly,
if we can't climb pretty reliably
up these rocks at 25 degrees,
we're not going into this crater.
STEVE: Everybody had to
approve that decision.
If we did screw up, I didn't want somebody
popping out of the woodwork
and saying, "Well, you didn't ask me!"
If you'd have asked me
I would have said you can't go in!"
No, I wanted to make sure
that we were all holding hands
when we jumped off the cliff together.
(indistinct chatter)
First, they ran some tests.
STEVE: And in fact,
the thing climbed beautifully.
I was stunned by how well this thing
could climb steep, steep slopes,
as long as they were rocky.
30, 32 degrees, boop, boop, boop,
right up it, it was amazing.
NARRATOR: In June, 2004,
NASA gave the go-ahead
to enter Endurance Crater.
Opportunity's fate was now
in the hands of the drivers,
the privileged few at JPL
who operate the rovers,
translating directions
from the scientists
into commands a robot can understand.
They spend their days immersed
in a virtual Mars environment
created by the rovers' own cameras.
SCOTT (off screen): It's one of the just
amazing things about this,
is the sense that you get of being there.
If you were standing at that spot
on Mars right now,
this is what you would see.
STEVE: We built a vehicle that had
intentionally human-like capabilities.
They're about the height of a person,
they have 20/20 vision,
and you develop an almost tactile sense
of what it's like to touch Mars.
ROB: We are no longer
working with a remote robot.
We are immersed inside it.
We find ourselves on Mars.
NARRATOR: It can take
as long as 20 minutes
for radio signals
from Earth to reach Mars,
so they can't be driven in real time.
CHRIS: You really are
programming the rover.
It's not a joystick.
It's, okay, you know,
go ten meters forward, turn five degrees,
uh, you know, check for obstacles,
measure your progress.
NARRATOR: They don't know
how the drive worked out
until pictures come back the next day.
STEVE: The rover's safety depends on
those guys doing their job right.
Okay, the person who's running
the Pancam camera
is not gonna drive the rover off the cliff
or get it stuck in a sand dune.
That's the rover drivers.
JULIE: Nobody has more anxiety every day
about what's being done to the rovers.
It's the feeling that I sequenced
all the commands
that are gonna move this rover today,
and if something goes wrong,
this is on me.
NARRATOR: Spirit had been slogging
for eight weeks across a lava field
to the base of the Columbia Hills.
There might be a payoff
on the upper slopes.
But getting there would be
a monumental challenge.
Spirit's solar panels,
her only source of power,
were getting dusty,
producing just half as much energy
as they used to.
And she was about to face
her first winter on Mars.
STEVE: We never expected
to survive a winter, period.
We got to the base
of the Columbia Hills 156 days
into what was supposed to be
a 90-day mission.
The seasons were changing.
Spirit is in the southern hemisphere
of Mars.
And what that means is in the winter
the sun is gonna go low
in the northern sky.
And it's gonna get
lower and lower and lower.
And as it gets lower the amount of power
that we're gonna get from solar arrays
is gonna get less and less and less
unless we can do something.
NARRATOR: It would help
if they could tilt the solar panels
toward the sun to get more power.
STEVE: Well, we didn't build
a tilt mechanism into the rover.
The only way to tilt them towards the sun
is to tilt the whole rover
towards the sun.
But the beauty of it was,
now we had a hill.
NARRATOR: If they followed a route
that kept the panels
tilted toward the sun,
Spirit might be able to survive the winter
and climb the mountain at the same time.
They'd have to stay the course
for at least seven months.
Mars takes two Earth years
to orbit the sun,
so Martian winters are twice as long.
But now they had a chance.
STEVE: It started to dawn on us
that we maybe had more life
in this thing than we had thought.
Opportunity spent her first Martian winter
on a sunny slope inside Endurance Crater.
Sampling rocks down the crater wall
added greater depth of time
to the water story at Meridiani.
Salty, acidic water soaked the ground
for hundreds of thousands
if not millions of years.
When summer returned it was time
to move on to something new,
but it was a long way
from Endurance Crater
to anything much different.
The most obvious target
was six kilometers,
almost four miles to the south,
a huge impact crater called Victoria.
Deeper than Endurance,
it was a chance to look
even farther back in time.
JOHN: We thought,
"Wow, could we get there?"
Six kilometers to the south,
remember, that's six times
the designed distance
capability of the rover.
NARRATOR: It looked like
easy driving though,
so they decided to put the pedal down
and head to Victoria Crater.
Spirit had been climbing
the Columbia Hills for six months,
surviving that first winter
with solar panels tilted toward the sun.
By now though, they were so dusty
she would soon be unable
to store enough power
to survive the frigid Martian nights.
STEVE: The power went down
and down and down.
And Spirit was arguably
getting close to the end.
And then one wonderful day
a gust of wind hit the vehicle,
cleaned the dust off
the solar arrays
and all of a sudden
we had a brand-new rover again.
It was just pure dumb luck.
NARRATOR: Spirit sent back
this picture of her own deck
just before the cleanup,
and this one just after.
STEVE: It's a new lease on life.
We've got more power
than we can use.
I mean, we have to shut the vehicle down
during the afternoon
to keep it from overheating.
It's producing so much power.
It was, it was just astonishing.
We were waking up the vehicle at night
and taking pictures of the stars,
the moons of Mars.
I mean, we did amazing things.
We're stargazing.
We're explorers on another world
looking up and looking
at the stars at night.
It added a whole new dimension
to our experience.
It gave us a sense of
what it's like at night on Mars.
NARRATOR: With power to spare
Spirit now had a shot
at reaching the summit called
Husband Hill.
SCOTT: Everybody who worked on Spirit
wanted that accomplishment.
It wasn't so much about finding
the liquid water anymore,
now it was about climbing that hill.
NARRATOR: Spirit had become
a mountain climber,
and this was a chance to do something
no climber had ever done before.
Spirit could claim the first ascent
of a peak on another planet.
While Spirit climbed,
Opportunity ran into trouble
on what was supposed to be
an easy drive to Victoria Crater.
JOHN: It was just these
gentle sloping dunes,
uh, literally all the way
to the horizon.
There wasn't a rock or a hazard
to be seen anywhere.
And we figured, "Oh, gosh, you could
drive blind in this area," it was so safe.
STEVE: We were using a driving technique
that I think could be charitably described
as bombing along at top speed
with our eyes closed.
MAN (over radio): Flight, Mobility.
WOMAN: Go ahead, Mobility.
MAN (over radio):
Up on screen number three
is the trajectory that the rover
believes that it drove.
NARRATOR: On sol 446,
things suddenly came to a halt.
Pictures from the previous sol
popped up in mission control,
and Opportunity's wheels
were buried to the hubs in deep sand.
STEVE: The wheels
broke through the surface
and we did 50 meters worth of wheel turns,
thinking we were happily progressing
across the Meridiani Planum surface,
and instead we were just digging slowly
down and down
into this, into the sand.
MAIMONE: The wheels look like
they're about 80 percent
under the ground there.
NARRATOR: It was a potential death trap,
and it took some time
to figure out what to do next.
STEVE: The first rule in a situation
like that is don't do anything dumb.
MAIMONE: It literally didn't make
much more progress
after about this point.
STEVE: We shouldn't have gotten
into this mess in the first place,
but let's not make it worse
by-by guessing how to get out of it.
MAN: ...a roofline,
we're putting obstacles.
At JPL they built a Martian sand dune
trying different recipes
of powdery clay and sand
to get the right consistency.
Then they brought in the test rover
and spent two weeks
trying to come up with an escape plan.
STEVE: After two and a half weeks
they found out the optimal technique
was to just put it in reverse and gun it.
Um, you know, there's-there's no place
you go to look this stuff up.
You just try things
until you find what works best.
NARRATOR: On a Mars rover,
gunning it happens in slow motion.
STEVE: We had to do 192 meters
worth of wheel turns on Mars
to get the vehicle to move one meter.
It took days and days and days.
You know, you'd do four meters,
eight meters worth of turns
and you'd come in the next morning
and it went that far.
NARRATOR: On sol 484
Opportunity finally broke free
of the trap.
The ordeal in the dune
they called Purgatory
was Opportunity's first brush with death.
It would not be the last.
NARRATOR: In September 2005,
after more than a year of climbing,
Spirit reached the summit
called Husband Hill.
SCOTT: She stands there
at the top of that hill
that she's conquered now
on another planet
and she looks at
the whole world around her.
I love her for bringing us that.
STEVE: More than anything else
I think I felt,
"Gosh, aren't we lucky to do what we do."
You know, we just climbed
a mountain on Mars.
NARRATOR: From the summit
they chose the next target,
a low mesa called Home Plate
with a solar friendly hillside
just beyond it for the next winter.
165 sols later
Spirit had passed Home Plate,
and with winter closing in,
was headed for McCool Hill.
STEVE: The way we had spent
the last winter
was climbing the north facing slope
of Husband Hill.
And so we figure
we'll head for McCool Hill
and keep the solar rays
tilted towards the sun
and pull the same trick
that we pulled last winter.
What happened though was,
the right front wheel quit.
The right front wheel
just stopped turning.
That came at a really bad time
because we were trying
to get onto the slopes of the McCool Hill
and without that wheel
functioning properly we can't climb.
NARRATOR: At JPL, they experimented
with 5-wheel driving.
They found it easier
to drive backwards,
dragging the dead wheel.
But it tended to pull
the rover off course,
complicating the drives.
CHRIS: Each day we only had
an hour to an hour and a half of power
and we had to write these
incredibly complicated sequences of,
you know, sometimes 400 commands
just to try to drive five meters.
SCOTT: You know when you go
to the grocery store
and you get the shopping cart
with the one stuck wheel,
um, and you're trying to get
that down the aisle?
Driving Spirit at this point
is a lot like trying to do that,
only your shopping cart
is 300 million miles away
and you have to drive it
with a keyboard.
STEVE: We're learning
to drive all over again.
The seasons are changing.
The power is getting less and less daily.
Everybody's starting to get nervous,
and then we get stuck.
JOHN: We got into this, it was kinda like
quicksand and we couldn't get out of it.
So we were thinking,
"Oh, my God, are we gonna be stuck here
and is the rover gonna die here?"
SCOTT: We were really
in a race against the clock
because we had something like three weeks
before Spirit just wasn't gonna have
enough energy to survive the night.
And people were talking about her
like she was the walking dead.
NARRATOR: Within a week
they got Spirit out of the trap,
but by then it was
too late to reach McCool Hill.
STEVE: Now at this point
I'm starting to realize
that my dreams of operating this vehicle
and keeping it moving
and doing new science and new places
all winter long, that's dead.
You know, forget about this stuff
hundreds of meters away.
We're never gonna make it.
What do we got that's next to us?
NARRATOR: They settled for a spot nearby
where they could get at least
a minimal tilt toward the sun.
STEVE: And that was it.
And there we sat for seven months.
But we survived.
NARRATOR: With the return of summer,
Spirit was moving again,
driving backwards,
dragging the dead wheel,
leaving a trench behind.
STEVE: We're driving along one day,
in this little valley,
we look at the pictures of the trench
that were dug that day,
and there's this one spot
where the soil is
practically as bright as white snow.
That got our attention.
It turns out this stuff
is more than 90 percent pure silica.
Not quartz. It's not beach sand.
This is amorphous silica.
It's like opal.
All of a sudden we realize
we've just come across something
completely new and different
that we had never seen before.
NARRATOR: On Earth, this kind of silica
forms in hot springs
or volcanic steam vents.
STEVE: And the thing
that's cool about that
is that you can go to
hydrothermal systems on Earth
and they're teeming with microbial life.
Now I don't know if there was
microbial life here.
We didn't, you know, bring fossil
detection instruments with us,
but this is the kind of environment
that-that could have been
quite appropriate
for some hardy types of microbes.
And that makes it
a pretty important place.
NARRATOR: 1,200 days
into her 90-day mission,
Spirit made her biggest discovery
and chances are, it would not
have happened without the broken wheel.
In September 2006,
after almost two years
on the plains of Meridiani,
Opportunity reached
the rim of Victoria Crater.
The bowl is a half-mile across,
five times the size of Endurance.
STEVE: The view
when we first pulled up to the rim,
it was just like nothing
we had ever seen before.
It was like coming
onto the Grand Canyon.
You know it's there
but it doesn't really prepare you
for the enormity
of what you're about to see.
NARRATOR: Millions of years
of Martian history
could be exposed in these rock faces,
but to read it, they needed to get close.
Opportunity set off on a scouting mission
that would last almost a year,
a daring drive along
the sheer edge of the crater wall.
STEVE: So we're literally tip-toeing
a hundreds of millions of dollar vehicle
along the top of a cliff
on another planet.
If you can drive right out
to the tip of one of those promontories,
right to the edge, you can
shoot across with your camera
at the next promontory over,
which might be only
30, 40, 50 meters away,
and you'll see this
wonderful cliff exposed there.
But in order to get that view
you've got to go right to the edge.
SCOTT: We're right there
on the edge of the cliff.
And this is what'll happens
if we're not careful with the rover,
and our job is to not do that
and make sure that we stay up
on this side of the cliff.
NARRATOR: Along the way,
the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
took a picture from 200 miles up,
showing the tracks
of Opportunity's daring drive.
STEVE: To me that image represents
one of the finest accomplishments
in the history of planetary robotics.
To have been able to pull off that drive,
time after time
with the scientists saying,
"Oh, get closer, get closer,
we gotta get closer!"
It was an incredible, incredible drive.
NARRATOR: After seven months,
they'd seen enough from the rim
and were ready to go inside.
The best way in appeared to be the spot
where they first approached the crater.
So Opportunity headed back
where she came from 200 sols before,
and into the path
of a dangerous storm.
NARRATOR: Weather is not
usually a problem on Mars,
with one large exception.
Once every three years or so,
there's a massive dust storm.
STEVE: Our first summer
on Mars it didn't happen.
And our second summer
on Mars it didn't happen.
But our third summer
on Mars it happened.
And it blew up into a global storm,
blanketed the entire planet.
From where Opportunity sat
on Meridiani Planum,
you looked up and you couldn't tell
where the sun was in the sky.
The amount of direct sunlight
that was reaching the solar panels
was less than one percent
of what it is on a clear day.
NARRATOR: At JPL they shut down
all but the most essential systems
on the rover to conserve power.
JOHN: They were never designed
to survive a dust storm.
The rovers are solar powered.
They need the sunlight to survive.
So each day we would turn things off
reducing the amount of power.
But, you know, you can't turn
everything off
because it's all about keeping
the rover warm.
STEVE: One of the things
that keeps the vehicle warm
is running the computer inside.
And so there was
this delicate balancing act
between running the computer
enough to keep it warm,
but not running it so much
that you draw the batteries down too much.
And we were just right on the edge
of-of-of, uh, catastrophe.
NARRATOR: On the other side of Mars
the dust was not as heavy,
and for once, Spirit had fewer problems.
But at Victoria Crater,
Opportunity was in serious trouble.
Soon the power would be so low
that the rover would
automatically shut down
until there was enough sunlight
to recharge the batteries.
Within a few days, that could be fatal.
JAKE: It's like sitting
at someone's deathbed, you know,
and waiting and waiting and wondering,
"Well, is it going to, uh, gonna survive,
is it going to come back?
Is it going to be able
to talk to us or..."
And, uh, it-it was very agonizing,
it got to the point
where you couldn't even take measurements
to figure out how bad it was.
All you could do
is just sort of sit there.
We just ran out of things to try.
NARRATOR: Just about everyone
had given up hope,
but then the sky began to clear,
and the six-week ordeal
finally came to an end.
Still the lucky rover,
a gust of wind
cleared Opportunity's solar panels,
and she went back to work.
In Gusev Crater,
Spirit survived the storm,
but when the dust settled, she got buried,
and winter was coming once again.
STEVE: We needed to find a place
for Spirit to try to survive
its third winter on Mars.
And at this point the rover
is so dirty from the dust storm
that a 12 degree tilt
is not gonna cut it.
We need a 30 degree slope.
And this is a rover
that can't climb 30 degree slopes.
NARRATOR: The only option at this point
was to drive across
Home Plate to the north rim
where Spirit could back off the edge
to tilt her solar panels toward the sun.
We had about 40 days to get there,
and of course with the power situation
already getting low
we couldn't drive everyday,
and with that broken wheel
we couldn't get far
on every day of those drives.
So we really had to make
the most of that time.
So we started driving across
the top of Home Plate
to get to this parking spot.
And we drove right into a sand trap.
NARRATOR: They call it Tartarus,
the lowest level of Hell,
a micro-crater full of sand too deep
for Spirit to handle with five wheels.
STEVE: We really got into a fix there.
The two back wheels
were off the ground.
So they're not working at all.
The right front wheel is dead.
So a six wheel vehicle
now actually only has three wheels
that are doing us any good whatsoever.
NARRATOR: There was one
last escape route to try,
but it was right at the edge
of Home Plate.
The slightest miscalculation
on the way out
could send Spirit over the edge.
STEVE: We had tried
every single trick we had.
And if that drive didn't work
the mission was probably over.
ASHLEY: We sequenced it
and we sent it up to the rover.
And a lot of us got no sleep that night.
STEVE: Sol 1388,
I will always remember it.
That was maybe the most crucial drive
that Spirit ever did.
And it worked.
We got out of Tartarus,
and we got across Home Plate,
eased our way down
onto that 30 degree slope,
and because of that,
we have a fighting chance
of actually making it through
our third winter on Mars.
These rovers are pretty old now.
They're getting kind of arthritic.
They don't see quite as well anymore
because the cameras are getting
more and more coated with dust,
so that their vision
is getting a little fuzzy.
STEVE: They've been through so much.
You know, I mean, the perils
that they have been through
and that we've kind of
suffered through with them,
it's like any kind of relationship
with somebody.
As you go through
many things over the years,
the-the relationship deepens.
We feel so close to these vehicles.
They are our bodies,
they are the way that we go to Mars,
and we're people who grew up
dreaming about the possibility
that one day we might walk
on other worlds.
STEVE: We can see ourselves in the rovers.
They've lasted so long,
it gives you a sense
that they're... determined.
Determination in a, in a hunk of metal,
but that's the way it feels.
And then above all
they move through the scene
with the ability to do
what a human would do.
To stop, look around, say,
"That looks interesting. Let's go there."
NARRATOR: In September 2008,
after 700 sols at Victoria Crater,
Opportunity embarked on what looked like
an impossible journey,
seven miles across the plains
to an even bigger crater
called Endeavour.
STEVE: It looked crazy.
But what were we gonna do?
We finished up at Victoria Crater.
We come out
and for miles in every direction
it's more of the same stuff.
Endeavour Crater
looked impossibly far away.
But it was the only goal
that I felt was worthy of that rover.
And so we set off.
NARRATOR: Straddling Home Plate,
tilted toward the sun,
Spirit survived
her third winter on Mars.
Still coated with dust,
her solar panels produced
a fraction of the power they once did,
but it was time to move.
Spirit was on the north side
of Home Plate.
The scientists wanted to explore
the area to the south.
The problem for the rover drivers
was how to get
where the scientists wanted to go.
The shortest route
was straight across Home Plate.
But with her broken wheel,
Spirit couldn't climb back up the bank.
They tried the east side,
but ran into soft ground
and had to turn back.
They had to settle
for the long way around,
through unknown terrain.
On sol 1886, they were driving south
along the west side of Home Plate.
It looked like solid ground,
but it was just a thin crust
that suddenly gave way.
ASHLEY: And the wheels started spinning
in this very fluffy soft stuff
and we just couldn't get any traction.
SCOTT: We were driving a wounded vehicle
through very treacherous terrain,
and, uh, we knew it.
This was the kind of trap that we knew
might be out there waiting for us.
That's why we didn't wanna go down there
in the first place.
But it was the only way
to get where we wanted to go.
STEVE: Each time we would get stuck there
was always a concern,
"Hey, this could be it."
But, uh, this one was
looking worse than most.
JOHN: Well, there is a lot of stress.
People are having a hard time,
we-we all are.
If there's a way of getting the rover out
we're gonna find it.
It is however
a very, very difficult situation.
NARRATOR: Months later,
Spirit was still stuck.
Another winter was closing in,
and the rover was in
a dangerous position,
with solar panels
tilted away from the sun.
ASHLEY: We were running out of time,
after all of our testing we came up
with a plan that we thought would work
and we were ready to try it out on Mars.
STEVE: But then, what sealed the deal,
what finished it
was we lost another wheel.
The right front wheel
had already failed,
and with two dead wheels
that thing's not gonna move.
That was it. I mean, when we lost
the second wheel we were done.
NARRATOR: In March 2010,
Spirit did not call home
for a scheduled communication session.
Starved for power, the rover likely went
into hibernation mode,
no survival heaters,
no communication,
just waiting for the summer sun
to recharge its batteries.
SCOTT: Even then, we still
had a lot of hope for her,
and we still believed
that she was gonna come out of it.
NARRATOR: By September 2010,
spring had returned to Gusev Crater,
and with it, the possibility that Spirit
would wake up and call home.
JOHN: We're involved
in a very extensive recovery effort
sending commands to the rover in the hope
of eliciting some sort of response.
NARRATOR: They sent up
more than 1,000 commands
over the next ten months.
BEN: The command is radiating.
It will take four-and-a-half minutes,
and then once that's done...
NARRATOR: They monitored
Spirit's channels
on the Deep Space Network,
listening for any hint of a signal.
MAN (over radio): There's a possible
signal we're trying to acquire.
BEN: Copy that.
NARRATOR: At times,
they thought they had something.
BEN: Hey, John,
2-2-0-2-1-2 positive signal...
ASHLEY: Spirit had pulled things
out of the fire so many times,
I don't think anybody truly believed
that she wouldn't get out of this one too.
NARRATOR: Not this time.
By the spring of 2011,
Spirit had been silent for over a year.
SCOTT: I've been missing her
for a long time,
and it's tough to kind of put
a finality to that, and say,
"Okay, that last time you heard from her
is the last time you are
ever gonna hear from her."
JOHN: People are holding out hope
but I think the reality is,
is people have to start
to accept that, uh,
that Spirit's time on Mars may be done.
NARRATOR: They listened intermittently
for another six months,
but Spirit's mission was over.
Her final resting place
next to Home Plate
is a hard-fought five miles
from her landing site
on the far side of the Columbia Hills.
STEVE: I always felt
that the one honorable way
to lose our rover
would be we just wore it out.
And that's what happened with Spirit.
We just beat it up to the point
where it couldn't work anymore.
Which meant that we had squeezed
everything out of our creation
that we possibly could have.
So that's an honorable death.
And then the other thing
that made it tolerable
was we had to go back to work
and keep operating Opportunity
the next day.
We still had a living rover.
NARRATOR: Spirit's mission was over,
but Opportunity was still crawling
across the plains of Meridiani.
In early 2011 she was spotted at the rim
of a small crater called Santa Maria,
seventeen miles
from her original landing site,
with miles to go in her
three-year journey to Endeavour Crater.
STEVE: It was a long three years,
day after day after day after day.
The only thing to break the monotony
was an occasional meteorite.
ROB: I think some of
the most haunting images from the rovers
has got to be
Opportunity's look backwards
toward the place we had come from.
There's this sense of vastness of Mars,
the sense of being
a long way from home.
This poor rover
is so far from where it had come,
and yet had so far to go
to its next destination.
NARRATOR: Like a captain's log,
Opportunity's camera recorded
the long voyage to Endeavour Crater.
STEVE: It was very reminiscent
of what you might imagine
if there's a sailor,
a sailing ship that's been at sea
for a long period of time,
and we were driving across
this flat ocean,
and off in the distance
rising like an island
out of that ocean you can see
the rim of Endeavour Crater.
It got closer and closer
and closer every day.
And it felt like coming ashore.
And when we got to the rim
of the crater everything changed.
It was like a new landing site.
It was like a new mission.
It was a breakthrough for us.
It was really a breakthrough.
Now we're seeing completely
different geochemistry,
completely different geology.
The most exciting thing
was that we found
very, very concentrated deposits
of clay minerals.
And clays tell a story
about water completely different
from the one
that we had seen before.
The clays tell a story
about water you could drink.
Water that's neutral in its pH.
Water that would be much more suitable
for, uh, not just the existence of life
but for the birth of life.
NARRATOR: Opportunity would
spend the next seven years
exploring the rim of Endeavour Crater.
In February 2018,
she passed 5,000 sols on Mars.
JOHN: This is like a car going
a million miles without an oil change.
I mean, it's just phenomenal.
And we still don't understand
how it was able to last so long.
Opportunity was headed down
a valley in the crater wall
when a massive dust storm rolled in,
far worse than the one
she survived 11 years before.
JOHN: It was just
a completely dark sky,
uh, no sunlight and so no power generation
and eventually the rover would exhaust
its batteries and fall silent.
NARRATOR: Unpowered and unheated
at 100 degrees below zero,
a younger rover might survive,
but Opportunity is no longer young.
JOHN: This is like the difference
between your teenage nephew
going out in the winter time
without a jacket
and your 97-year-old grandmother
going out in the winter time
without a jacket.
The teenager
you're not so worried about,
but your grandmother
you're really concerned about.
And so that's where we are.
NARRATOR: Three months later
the storm begins to clear.
If Opportunity survived,
and the sun is recharging the batteries,
the rover should wake up
and call home.
But there may be so much dust
on the solar panels
that Opportunity would shut down again
before making the call.
JOHN: It's an unlikely scenario
but we wanna cover all possibilities
so we're sending commands,
hoping to catch the rover
when it wakes up briefly
before it shuts down again.
And these commands would tell
the rover send us a signal.
JOHN: So this is a wide band receiver,
that's just listening for anything
that might be coming down,
and what we would expect to see
would be a sharp spike right here
in the middle,
a sharp line which would be
our rover talking to us.
NARRATOR: The panels may be so dirty
that Opportunity can't wake up
even briefly.
But that could change in the months ahead
when the windy season returns to Mars.
ASHLEY: You know, if she's really dirty,
we know the winds are coming
and we've seen the rovers
get cleaned off every year
and it could well be enough that,
to-to wake Opportunity back up again.
But it is Mars,
so we don't know for sure,
we'll just have to wait and see.
JOHN (off screen): This is done.
Uh, no signal, that's a wrap for today.
We'll try again tomorrow.
NARRATOR: They set out to prove that Mars
is worth exploring, despite the risk.
ADAM: Spirit and Opportunity
changed the way we think about Mars.
When your perspective
is constantly changing,
you are exploring
as a human being would explore.
And this was our first view
of what that looks like.
And the discoveries
that water had been on the surface
meant we were going back.
We have put other missions
on the surface of Mars
and we are working on putting
additional missions
on the surface of Mars.
And we're really doing all of that
because of Spirit and Opportunity.
Eight months after falling silent,
there was still no sign
that Opportunity survived the storm.
In February 2019,
just over 15 years
since Opportunity landed on Mars,
NASA announced
that her mission was over.
Spirit and Opportunity
opened the Martian frontier for good,
and now they'll sit forever on a planet
where little has changed
in billions of years.
STEVE: It's cold, it's dry,
there's no vegetation.
They're not gonna rust
or anything like that.
You know, these things could be
still sitting there
with their, you know, aluminum surfaces
shining a million years from now.
They're gonna last a long, long time.
Longer than most things
that humans have ever built.
Captioned by Point.360