Good Night Oppy is a loving tribute to NASA The Mars Rovers Opportunity and Spirit were expected to remain operational for 90 days. Fifteen years later, Oppy was still roving, as the new documentary Good Night Oppy chronicles.

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A loving salute to NASA's Mars rover program in 'Good Night Oppy'

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In 2003, NASA sent two robots named Spirit and Opportunity to explore the surface of Mars. They were expected to have a life span of about 90 days, but as chronicled in the documentary "Good Night Oppy," Opportunity was still sending back pictures 15 years later. Critic Bob Mondello says the film seems calculated to make kids of all ages want to be space engineers.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: We are introduced to Oppy when she's on a roll but has abruptly come to a stop. Hazard detected, she alerts her handlers on Earth. They get the message some six minutes later, look at the image she's sent and send back a few words that get her rolling again. You are safe to proceed. That's just your shadow.

(SOUNDBITE OF B-52'S SONG, "ROAM")

MONDELLO: Now, forgive me, but we are not even four minutes in, and already I'm hooked. Oppy and her twin sister Spirit look like real life WALL-Es. They each have solar panel wings to provide power, metal arms to pick stuff up, a head that swivels with lenses spaced just like a person's eyes. They stand 5-foot-2. And every morning, NASA scientists roused them from an overnight slumber...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOOD NIGHT OPPY")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Our morning wake-up song is coming right up.

MONDELLO: ...Just as they did their human counterparts on manned space flights.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BORN TO BE WILD")

STEPPENWOLF: (Singing) Get your motor runnin'.

MONDELLO: The story of how Spirit and Oppy got designed...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Our landing system had these big air bags that inflated.

MONDELLO: ...And then got to Mars....

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Atmospheric entry in three, two, one.

MONDELLO: ...Fills the first half of "Good Night Oppy." And it's crammed with brainstorming, troubleshooting, nail-biting over solar flares...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOOD NIGHT OPPY")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: It goes slamming right in to our rovers.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Really bad for a spacecraft.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Now a software we put on board had been corrupted.

MONDELLO: Still, that's what reboots are for, right? And seven months and 300 million miles later, they get to the red planet...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOOD NIGHT OPPY")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: We are on Mars.

MONDELLO: ...And the real fun begins. Filmmaker Ryan White has plenty of footage of NASA folks cheering, fretting and, most of all, explaining. The director also employed the digital wizards from Industrial Light & Magic to conjure the scenes on Mars that his crew can't shoot - the rovers for the first 90 days racing against time as the scientists assume their solar panels will get so dusty they'll no longer provide power.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOOD NIGHT OPPY")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And then we see these dust devils.

MONDELLO: Whirling mile-high tornadoes of dust.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: We had taken these pictures some weeks before. And it was getting really, really red and dusty. You could barely see the solar panels anymore. But the morning after the dust devil, it's like somebody came along with Windex. And the solar panels were as clean as the day that we landed.

MONDELLO: An unexpected new lease on life repeated again and again as the rovers spent years exploring terrain NASA never expected them to see. Over time, it makes sense that these scientists and engineers would view their charges as almost human.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOOD NIGHT OPPY")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: One of the shoulder joints in Opportunity's arm started getting arthritis.

MONDELLO: They birthed them, after all, and sent them out to fend for themselves, hoping they'd imparted the skills necessary to stay safe and to thrive.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOOD NIGHT OPPY")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: She noticed that she was sliding too much downhill and stopped just centimeters from the tip of her solar panel. We all had heart attacks. But her autonomy saved us, and we were so proud of our lucky rover.

MONDELLO: Watching "Good Night Oppy," you'll almost certainly feel that way, too - proud and fond of these intrepid explorers who may not have found life on Mars but who ensured, for 15 years at least, that the red planet was lively. I'm Bob Mondello.

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