Roving Mars

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Roving Mars Movie Poster Image
NASA sends robots to explore Mars in IMAX docu.
  • G
  • 2006
  • 40 minutes

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Educational Value

Kids will learn more about space exploration.

Positive Messages

Some planets are too far away to send humans to, so it's important to send robots first to gather information.

Positive Role Models & Representations

NASA scientists and engineers worked hard for years through trial and error to build robots that would withstand the harsh conditions on Mars.

Violence & Scariness
Sexy Stuff
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the stunning visuals of Mars' red surface may attract younger viewers, but much of the 2006 documentary Roving Mars focuses on scientists' technical efforts to create the Mars robots, making this a better bet for older kids. Descriptions of trial-and-error planning, building, and testing, then launching and landing do eventually lead to the excitement of collecting data communicated by the two robots that roamed Mars' surface for years. Kids interested in space exploration will love the photographs taken by the robots, but note that much of the film is made of computer-generated animation, allowing realistic glimpses of what take-off and landings looked like. The film was originally designed to be shown in IMAX theaters.   

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What's the story?

In January 2004, two high-tech NASA robots landed on Mars to collect information about the makeup of the planet and the possibility that water had once been plentiful there. ROVING MARS is a Disney short documentary about NASA's long and successful research project that produced robots named Spirit and Opportunity, launched them, landed them safely, and retrieved vital information from them. Failure faced the scientists at every step along the way, but their efforts were rewarded as the robots sent back photographs and rock analysis that pressed knowledge of the planet forward. Spirit lasted 20 times longer than the scientists expected, but its solar panels became too dust-covered to recharge the battery, leading to its death in 2010.  Opportunity went on functioning for 15 years, sending its last communication in 2018. 

Is it any good?

Computer-generated images simulating take-off, flight, and landings make this documentary beautiful and informative. Anyone interested in humankind's highest achievements in space exploration will be inspired by the hard work that went into conceiving and building the robots seen here. Though tRoving Mars isn't the most dramatic documentary, once the robot design problems are solved, simulations show that the parachutes designed to break the fall at landing are exploding, and the engineers must design new ones as the deadline for launch nears. Scientists who worked on the project explain the instrumentation on board, including cameras, microscopes, drilling tools, and spectrometers. As one puts it, in any major project, setbacks are guaranteed, and that's not a bad philosophy for getting through life.     

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what scientists are looking for as they explore space. Why would it be interesting to know if life could have existed on other planets?

  • Why do you think the robots in Roving Mars are looking for signs that water existed in some form? How does the existence of water relate to life?

  • What does it say about the work of the scientists that the robots lasted more than 20 times longer than expected? 

Movie details

  • In theaters: January 27, 2006
  • On DVD or streaming: July 31, 2007
  • Director: George Butler
  • Studio: Disney+
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Character strengths: Perseverance
  • Run time: 40 minutes
  • MPAA rating: G
  • Last updated: May 15, 2020

Our editors recommend

For kids who love outer space

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