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January 9,2009 (FreeFilmFriday)

My poor, bedraggled United States of America: housing bubble bursted, financial industry turmoiling, people losing their jobs leftist, rightist, and centrist. Sigh. Well, if you need a shot in the arm of “this is how great America can be,” then get yourself right over to the Museum of Science and watch the IMAX movie “Roving Mars,” one of the truly stunning cinemagraphic achievements in this century (as measured from 1908).

You think gettin’ us landed on the moon was a big deal, try sending the cousin of WALL-E on a seven month, three hundred MILLION mile journey to Mars, knowing that at the end of the trip there’d be a six-minute window where you’d have zero communication with the craft while it descended through the Mars atmosphere, and also knowing that you might never even hear from it again because the landing was, well, entirely up to the rover and its bouncy-ball inflatable air-bag (yes, I know there’s no air in space, just flow with the imagery). And then to have to wait for MORE than those six minutes for contact to be re-established, all the while thinking "did we do everything right, did we anticipate all possible issues, are we gonna fail like two-thirds of all missions to Mars?"; you wouldn't think watching people watching a blank wall of monitors would make your heart pound, but it does.

The Mars Bars (as I started thinking about them while watching the film) didn’t think they’d make it: the thing was heavier than they thought it would be, the thing was bigger than they thought it would be, and they had to re-figure out how to land it since their initial parachute designs got shredded during practice runs. They thought they were going to run out of time; they thought they were going to run out of money. AND, they had this little window, that only comes around every 28 years, when Earth and Mars are aligned in such a way that there’s even a hope of getting the thing off our planet and towards the other planet in such a way that the planet would actually be where it needed to be when the craft got to where it was going.

The liftoff sequence was so amazing, so “Oh my gawd, human people thought this up?” that it almost made me cry. And even though I knew (roughly) the ending of the whole thing, watching the Rover team watching those screens on touchdown day was so full of tension and suspense that I almost couldn’t watch it.

And then to “see” the rovers on Mars, and to know that the movement on the screen was exactly the movement that occured on Mars because the movie people used the data from the Mars rovers make the movie rovers move, I thought, well, now I’ve been to Mars. Seeing the solar panels delicately unfold like origami, then seeing the panels get covered with dust and start to lose their capacity and THEN seeing the wind whipping up and finally blowing off the dust merely proves that there is magic in space.

So back to America: watching this movie made me proud of who we are, and who we can be when we have a noble and arduous task set for us. That whole team - all races, both genders - accomplished a feat of enormous proportions, and this movie gives you an idea of what they did and how much effort went into getting it done. The filmmakers are so good at what they do, have such an ability to tell the story of the team and their two little crafts (and trust me, these crafts give new meaning to the word “crafty”), that "Roving Mars" is one of the most inspiring films I have ever seen.   [Permalink]- by Carolyn Donovan


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