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Case Number 22362: Small Claims Court

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Mars: The Red Planet

PBS // 2004 // 240 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // September 24th, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge Kent Dixon is more of a Snickers kinda guy.

The Charge

Take a closer look at how close human travel to Mars really is.

The Case

One of our closest Milky Way neighbors, the planet Mars is one of the most intriguing celestial bodies, outside of our own. Named after the Roman god of war and glowing like a blood-red beacon, Mars has fascinated us since our ancestors first spotted it in the night sky. But the Red Planet has become more than just the subject of science fiction in the past few decades, driving scientists and explorers to reach out and explore the planet with more than just telescopes. With that in mind and with NASA's considerable assets engaged in the process, scientists have begun a more concentrated search of Mars in recent years.

The driving force behind this research and exploration is the essential factor that is required for life to thrive and grow: liquid water. Beginning with the first successful fly-by of Mars in 1965 by NASA's Mariner IV, many countries, including the United States, the Soviet Union, Europe and Japan, have sent spacecraft to Mars. The content included on PBS Explorer Collection: Mars: The Red Planet focuses on the time period shortly after the failed 1992 Mars Observer project and includes info on Pathfinder, the Sojourner robotic exploration vehicle, and the twin Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

The Red Planet brings three previously-released episodes of Nova and one episode of Nova scienceNOW, each with their own thin pack DVD case that fits into a larger cardboard case, delivering a more contemporary chronicle of our Martian exploration efforts.

Disc One
•  "Mars: Dead or Alive?"—In a traditional documentary format, this episode looks at the team behind developing the technology to get twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity safely to the Martian surface. Beginning a year before launch of the $820 million project, viewers are treated to the joys and pains that went into this historic project.

Disc Two
•  "Welcome to Mars"—Picking up essentially where "Dead or Alive?" left off, this one follows Spirit and Opportunity after landing on Mars as they gather important data in the search for evidence of liquid water. Proof that water once flowed on Mars would tip the scales greatly in favor of Mars potentially becoming our second home.

Disc Three
•  "Is There Life on Mars?"—That has been the real question for centuries…is there life on Mars now, or did it exist there in the planet's past? Lasting well beyond their initially-planned mission time frame, Spirit and Opportunity continue to travel the Martian surface gathering data. Mars, once very alien to us, has revealed some amazing wonders, courtesy of the rovers and their scientific masters.

Disc Four
•  "Can We Make it to Mars?"—Hosted by Neil Degrasse Tyson, Nova scienceNOW is just more fun all around than the average episode of its parent show Nova. Likely skewed to a younger demographic, this episode takes an engaging and often whimsical look at the risks involved in getting a crew to Mars and the science needed to overcome those challenges.

As one might imagine, given the range of broadcast dates from the material included here, the audio and video quality vary widely, but the real value is in the content that is presented. Suffice it to say that The Red Planet is more valuable for its historic content than its home theater impact. This release also includes a "play with video descriptions" feature, but only with the Nova scienceNOW content.

The Red Planet delivers a slim offering of extra features that includes an "Interview with Donna Shirley of NASA" on the "Mars: Dead or Alive?" disc and an assortment of web links, text-only and interactive content, as well as teaching materials accessible via DVD-ROM.

While the four previously-aired episodes are interesting enough on their own, the real value of this release lies in the broader story it tells: one of frustration and elation, mystery and discovery, with Mars as its fascinating subject matter. Whether watched at home or used as a powerful tool in the classroom, PBS Explorer Collection: Mars: The Red Planet is a winner.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 87

Perp Profile

Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 240 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Historical
• Science and Nature
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Interviews
• Teaching Materials
• DVD-ROM Content

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