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'Good Night Oppy' is the feel good space film you need

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When NASA landed two rovers on the surface of Mars in 2004, they did not expect those devices to last more than a few months. But one kept on working for almost 15 years. And it revealed far more than scientists could have hoped.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOOD NIGHT OPPY")

CHRIS LEWICKI: Ladies and gentlemen, you are privileged to be in one of the most exciting rooms on Earth at the moment.

ANGELA BASSETT: Rover diary - the signal from the vehicle is solid and strong. Opportunity is on Mars.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: What do we do next?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Let's hit the road, pedal to the metal, and go see Mars.

INSKEEP: A new documentary about that program is in theaters today. It's called "Good Night Oppy" - O-P-P-Y. Our reviewer, Kenneth Turan - that's T-U-R-A-N - is excited about this one. Hey there, Ken.

KENNETH TURAN, BYLINE: Hey, Steve. How you doing?

INSKEEP: OK. Oppy - I guess that's the nickname of this rover, Opportunity?

TURAN: Yes. It became a family member to people. And that's why this film is especially moving. I mean, it's about a machine, but it's genuinely heartwarming and character-driven. And really, when I watched it, can I say that close family members were in tears when we watched this, you know? It's...

INSKEEP: Oh, my goodness, my goodness. Of course, you soldiered on because you're tough and you're a reviewer. And you've got to do your job.

TURAN: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: But let's talk about this. The central character is a robot on wheels - right? - not a human being?

TURAN: That is correct. It's a robot on wheels. Though, they made it humanlike almost by accident, the engineers say. It's 5'2, which is the average height of a human being around the world. The cameras look like eyes. And it really influenced the design - if people remember the Pixar film "Wall-E." Wall-E looks a little bit like Oppy, you know? So this took on human characteristics.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "GOOD NIGHT OPPY")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: It's just a box of wires, right? But you end up with this cute-ish-looking robot that has a face. (Gasping) It's alive.

TURAN: What happened, Steve, is that they - it's solar-powered. And they thought, eventually, the dust on Mars would kill it. But dust storms turned out to clean the solar panels, so it kept going.

INSKEEP: Well, what did this robot help people learn in all of those extra years?

TURAN: Well, they learned something very significant. Oppy found a rock that really proved that billions of years ago, there had been water on Mars - that even though Mars is dry and dusty, at one time, there was water there. There was a kind of life there.

INSKEEP: Discovered on one of these extra journeys that nobody ever planned on?

TURAN: Exactly. No one ever thought it would live long enough to prove this, but it did.

INSKEEP: So spoiler alert, Oppy doesn't last forever. But then again, none of us does. When we get to the end and this device is finally shutting off or dying, is it like the end of "Bambi"?

TURAN: Oh, my God. You know, one of the things that's so moving - there's a NASA tradition. When there are astronauts in space, they start the day with a wake-up song. So they have wake-up songs for Oppy through the entire 15 years. They use things like "Born To Be Wild," ABBA song "SOS." On the last day, when they just knew this was going to be it for Oppy, the song that's played is Billie Holiday's "I'll Be Seeing You." And it was emotional for the people at JPL. And it's emotional to watch this because we, too, have become attached to this little machine that could. And we are sad to be saying goodbye to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL BE SEEING YOU")

BILLIE HOLIDAY: (Singing) I'll be seeing you...

INSKEEP: Film reviewer Kenneth Turan. It's always a pleasure talking with you, sir.

TURAN: Likewise, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'LL BE SEEING YOU")

HOLIDAY: (Singing) In all the old familiar places that this heart of mine embraces all that is through. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.