Do NASA stories make your eyes glaze over? Does the very mention of space make you space out? If so, "Roving Mars," the new film at the National Air and Space Museum's Lockheed Martin Imax Theater, is just your kind of film. A briskly moving, deeply engaging 40-minute documentary about the 2003 expedition during which two robots were deployed on Mars, "Roving Mars" manages to present scientific inquiry as an emotional journey, during which two exquisitely designed machines go from being gears and hinges to the embodiment of our best hopes and dreams.
A caveat: "Roving Mars" sounds like one of those you-are-there documentaries, with lots of close-up shots of the Red Planet taken from the two ambulatory robots. But although there are plenty of those miraculous visual images, most of the film has to do with months of work by 4,000 scientists to get the rovers -- named Spirit and Opportunity -- into space. Indeed, a good three-quarters of the film takes place right here on Earth, in the gleaming, white-and-gold lab at the Kennedy Space Center where the robots were perfected, and finally at Pasadena's California Institute of Technology, where tense scientists are seen waiting for their "babies" to land safely on Mars. Watching as Spirit unfolds her solar panels is like witnessing a birth, and in its final, mind-bending few minutes, "Roving Mars" ends on a suitable note of triumphalism and wonder.
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