Non-Fiction Video Thursday: Mars, Dead or Alive

Mars, Dead or Alive (NOVA)

This program first aired just hours after the rover Spirit landed on Mars (January 3, 2004). As a result, its title is somewhat misleading. It is not actually about Mars, but rather is about the development of the Mars rovers that are currently exploring it. It documents the months that preceded the landing on Mars, as the technicians and scientists struggle here on Earth to create workable rovers. A lot was riding on this mission--50 percent of previous missions to Mars had been disasters. NASA had to get it right this time, to show that it was capable of doing something right. And it worked--in a glorious finale, Spirit arrives safely on Mars.

This documentary is, essentially, a "boys and their toys" thing. It is very male dominated, and very machine focused (with a smidge of exo-geology). This is not to say that it is not good--for those who love robots, and anyone interested in the process of creating machines that will survive the hostile conditions of an alien world, this is a great video. It carries the useful message that if at first you don't succeed, try try again (like a Dragon Tales video, or such like, only more educational). And it is also interesting to see all the hard, hard work and hope and disappointment that is behind every space mission.

The Spirit and Opportunity rovers turned out to be a phenomenal success, so much so that people like myself have become a bit blase about them. I used to follow their progress assiduously; not so today. This documentary was released before we knew how stupendous the information sent back by the rovers would be, so it is more a background to what today's kids might already know. Because this is a very techie video, kids interested in Mars qua Mars might not be engaged, but kids interested in really cool machines should be engrossed.

A second documentary, Welcome to Mars picks up where Dead or Alive leaves off (shown above is Spirit's parachute), but we haven't watched it yet.

Here's the show's webpage, for those who want more information.

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