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JPL Film Screening: Mission to Mars

Tuesday, February 25, 2020
7:00pm to 9:00pm
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Beckman Auditorium
  • Public Event

Produced, written and directed by JPL Fellow and Emmy Award-winner Blaine Baggett, "Mission to Mars" is the third of four documentaries about JPL-led missions to Mars premiering at Caltech. "Mission to Mars" will be screened in Caltech's Beckman Auditorium on February 25, 2020 at 7 p.m. The film will be preceded by a short, informal panel discussion consisting of Mars mission team members, Baggett, and moderator Preston Dyches. This event is free and open to the public. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.


After the devastating loss of two missions to Mars in 1999, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory found itself at a crossroads. Would the laboratory — known for innovation — pull back, becoming more conservative with the kinds of missions it was willing to take on? Or would it, as one engineer put it, "get back up in the saddle," and continue its history of taking on challenging new, one-of-a-kind missions? The new documentary "Mission to Mars" is the story of the engineers and scientists who overcame multiple adversities to design, build, test and launch the rovers that came to be known as Spirit and Opportunity, two of NASA's the most storied robotic explorers. Caltech's Beckman Auditorium will host the documentary's premiere on Tuesday, Feb 25, at 7 p.m.

In reaching its decision about what to do following the loss of the two Mars missions in 1999, JPL decided to "double down," agreeing to build from scratch not one, but two rovers for an extremely tight launch window in 2003. (The aim was to take advantage of the fact that Mars and Earth would be closer to one another than they had been in 60,000 years.) Key to the daring plan was to reuse the entry, descent and landing (EDL) system of parachutes and airbags that had worked successfully on the Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997. But as the new rover design became larger and heavier, to the team's shock, their plan to "built to print" the EDL system had to be abandoned as parachutes and airbags dramatically failed in test after test.

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