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NOVA - Mars, Dead or Alive
NOVA - Mars Dead or Alive
Actor: Stacy Keach; Peter Thomas (VI); Don Wescott
Director: Nova
Genres: Television, Documentary
NR     2004     1hr 0min

Inside NASA?s risky field trip to the Red Planet. Two-thirds of all spacecraft previously launched to Mars never reached their destination. Now, in a pioneering and risky mission, twin rovers named Spirit and Opportunity ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Stacy Keach; Peter Thomas (VI); Don Wescott
Director: Nova
Genres: Television, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Television, Science & Technology, Space Exploration
Studio: WGBH Boston
Format: DVD - Color,Letterboxed - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 03/30/2004
Original Release Date: 03/03/1974
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 0min
Screens: Color,Letterboxed
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

A behind-the-scenes look at one of the most successful missi
Stephen Pletko | London, Ontario, Canada | 10/29/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)


In August 2005, the lead or principal science investigator (or simply, the guy in charge) of the Mars Exploratory (MER) Mission Dr. Steve Squyres, wrote a book about this mission (a mission which is still going as of the date this review was posted). His book consists of three parts: (1) the events that lead to the final decision to go ahead with the MER mission (2) the technical development of the mission and (3) some highlights of the rovers on Mars.

This late March 2004 video on DVD gives an excellent account of the second part of Squyres' book and also includes some of part one and a bit of part three.

If everything on this video is included in this book, then why bother with this video? Answer: three main reasons.

(1) This video has fantastic computer animation that brings what Squires' writes in his book alive.
(2) You get to actually see the two identical rovers or robots (called "Spirit" and "Opportunity") and their components up-close. (The rovers are to be like field geologists examining the soil and rocks of Mars as well as imaging features on Mars and transmitting their data back to Earth.)
(3) You get to see some of the faces of the incredible MER team (made of more than 600 people). You especially get to see a lot of Squyres.

This video has eight scenes:

(1) Introduction (which is a brief preview of the entire program).
(2) A Hostile Environment (includes interesting stuff about the planet Mars and why it's the graveyard for half the spacecraft ever sent there).
(3) Unexpected Problems (that is, technical problems that arose with the rovers and their components during testing.)
(4) Where to Land (the sites where the rovers were to land on Mars had to be above-all safe).
(5) Engineers Prevail (since engineers are more concerned with the practical aspects of the mission).
(6) Time to Fly (the launch of Spirit and Opportunity in the summer of 2003).
(7) Welcome to Mars (Sprit successfully lands on Mars in early January 2004 with some drama and the MER team's reaction).
(8) End Credits.

What is the purpose of the MER mission? Squyres tells us: "I want to go to two places on Mars where we've got good evidence that water was there and I want to answer the question: was this an environment that would have been suitable for life?"

If I had to sum up this video in one sentence, I would have to say that it puts an emotional human face on this robotic mission and does this quite well.

The DVD itself is perfect in picture and sound quality. I found all the extras interesting and informative.

I would recommend after viewing this video to read the above-mentioned book called "Roving Mars" (2005) by Dr. Steve Squyres.

Finally, the only minor problem I had with this video is that it does not mention how long this 800 million dollar mission was to last. The answer is 90 days. Squyres wrote his book 445 days into the mission. And, as I said, this mission is still going on as of the date this review was posted!!

In conclusion, this is a fantastic video with excellent computer animation that puts a human face on the robotic Mars Exploratory Mission!!!

(2004; 55 min; originally aired on the Public Broadcasting Station on their program Nova; widescreen; closed-captioned)

The science and engineering behind the Mars rovers
Daniel Jolley | Shelby, North Carolina USA | 08/28/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Mars Dead or Alive tells the story of the two rovers, the Spirit and the Opportunity, that landed on Mars in January 2004 to undertake advanced geological studies and to seek evidence of past water on the planet's surface. This Nova documentary does not cover the mission itself, merely the preparation and execution of the rover project. As such, it will primarily be of interest to science geeks.

As far as I'm concerned, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is the only NASA-related agency that has any credibility whatsoever nowadays; basically, the only real successes of the past decade or more are attributable to JPL. This documentary is somewhat revealing in regard to NASA as a whole, if you ask me. When you look at the Mars rover project, you see scientists and engineers rushing to meet a deadline, foregoing certain tests because of time constraints, having to react on the fly to unexpected problems, and allowing NASA's "go with what you know" philosophy to trip them up on matters that would seem to be comparatively simple. Here's an example: the Rover missions were initially designed to use the same type of parachute and air bags as that of the earlier Pathfinder mission to Mars. Team members then watched in shock as both of these critical mission components failed miserably in testing. Of course those tests failed - for the simple reason that the new rovers were a good fifty pounds heavier than the Pathfinder. So it is that we see engineers and scientists sweating bullets trying to fix mission-killing problems mere weeks before the deadline, all because they failed to make adjustments according to weight.

I don't mean to criticize the rover team members too harshly, though. They did, as this documentary shows us, really pull together to correct their mistakes and figure out new solutions to unexpected problems - and, as we know, both Spirit and Opportunity landed safely on Mars and did the jobs they were intended to do. Mars Dead or Alive does a good job of posing the challenges to the mission and walking us through most of the process. The rovers themselves are immensely complicated little bots armed with a portable geological lab, stereoscopic eyes, and over a thousand units of delicate hardware. Somehow, these things had to survive a landing on Mars, basically wake themselves up, call Earth, and then ease out onto the surface and begin serious scientific work. Even the choice of landing sites was complicated, for a number of reasons. The scientists dearly wanted to land in Gusev Crater, which they believed could possibly be a dry lake bed, and the engineers had to pulls feats of Montgomery Scott-like proportions to make this possible. The parachute and inflatable bags around the rover had to prove themselves able to withstand the possible winds at that location - and that took some real doing since both components miserably failed their initial tests.

Unless you're a NASA cynic like me (and I hate being such a cynic, as my fondest dream as a child was to work for this very agency), Mars Dead or Alive tells a pretty inspirational story - men and women coming together, plowing through many obstacles, and succeeding in a pretty glorious mission to Mars. The folks at JPL are really the best in the business - still, I think the conditions under which this Mars project proceeded are somewhat revealing of NASA's problematic culture. That, in my mind, makes Mars Dead or Alive a doubly instructive documentary."
Superb and moving
VoteForTheLeastWorst | Somewhere, US United States | 03/30/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I won't go into as much detail as others have, but I will say that as an armchair science lover, I was moved by this documentary. It was fascinating to see the level of dedication these people have, and I am amazed that the mission is still ongoing! The animations were superb and told the story very well. I don't think scientists get enough credit and attention. Everyone should see this."
NOVA - Mars, Dead or Alive - What talented fortunate people!
Keith Mirenberg | | 04/01/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"NOVA - Mars, Dead or Alive was an excellent five star film recorded in very good definition and recommended for all space fans. The film does not require any additional descriptions as the top rated one is on the money. I just want to comment that these very talented people from the academic community and NASA are very fortunate to be working on something they love so much. When required they put in a 200 percent effort and make every effort to deliver. It is primarily because of their great love of what they do that our frugal planetary exploration efforts have payed off so well. After all, they are not bankers or wall street brokers, but scientists and engineers who didn't get into the business to get rich.