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Go / No Go :
"Inside The Space Station" DVD
"Welcome To Mars" DVD

Review by Rick Houston

Studio:   Artisan Entertainment
Release:   2000
Length:   50 minutes on 1 disc
MSRP:   $14.98
Extras:   Photo gallery; director Q&A; ISS timeline; featurettes on Mircorp, and the STS-96 and Zvezda missions

Studio:   WBGH
Release:   2005
Length:   60 minutes on 1 disc
MSRP:   $19.95
Extras:   Print materials for educators; access to the NOVA Website

Before the Vision for Space Exploration was announced, NASA had two primary frontiers: building the International Space Station and landing robotic probes on Mars. Two made-for-TV documentaries, now each on DVD, recently focused on these two endeavors, to different end results.

Produced for The Discovery Channel, Inside The Space Station first aired just after construction of the laboratory began 220 miles above Earth in 2000.

There are no doubt a few great moments shown Inside The Space Station. For example, Jerry Ross' descriptions of his spacewalks. His daughter, Amy worked on gloves that he wore during one of his trips outside the ISS. When you listen to her talk about it, and hear Ross praise Amy for the gloves while actually working in space, you cannot help but be touched.

Animation of the near-tragic impact of a Russian supply craft with the Mir space station is amazing. Watch Bob Cabana describe what it's like to be on-board the Space Shuttle during liftoff, and see his boyish grin, and you're torn. You're happy that he's had his experience and yet it inspires more than a touch of personal jealousy.

The HDTV quality of the spaceflight and training footage is downright breathtaking. It's quite possibly the best, bar none. The shots are crisp, the angles unique. One is left wondering if The Discovery Channel didn't have their own director and camera on-board the flights.

However, for each of Inside's strengths, there are just as many, if not more, flaws. The first and probably most frustrating problem is that there is little, if any, continuity to this project. Each of the program's individual chapters are informative, but never remain with any given subject long enough to present a full understanding.

Which leads to the question: wasn't this DVD supposed to be about the International Space Station? The ISS is rarely mentioned, and again, when it is, it's only for a brief few moments. Missing, for example, is the ISS from the Russian perspective, with their facilities and equipment.

In comparison, Welcome To Mars, aired on PBS' NOVA is a welcome difference. A sequel to the popular MARS Dead or Alive documentary, Welcome follows the rovers Spirit and Opportunity from the second they landed on the planet through many months into their ongoing mission.

When Spirit rolls off its landing platform, the emotion in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory control room comes across loud and clear. And the shots of the Martian landscape are, pardon the pun, out-of-this-world.

There is great animation of the craft's approach and landing, to give viewers a sense of just how violent a trip Spirit and Opportunity had experienced. A portion of the landing bag blocked Spirit's path, which led the NOVA crew to film the "Mars sandbox" where a rover mock-up tested alternate routes off the platform. Witnessing the coffee table-sized vehicle delicately move is fascinating.

Welcome To Mars explains why NASA scientists chose the landing sites for Spirit and Opportunity that they did. Was Mars ever home to lakes and rivers? The search for water leads NASA to Mars and viewers are there every step of the way through NOVA's cameras.

Go/No Go: Go to Mars; bypass the Space Station.

No other DVD about Mars exploration currently compares to Welcome on Mars. And while the quality of the footage in Inside The Space Station is without compare, it lacks substance. For those interested in America's cooperation with Russia, the IMAX releases Mission To Mir and the upcoming Space Station 3-D offer the viewer much more.

Order now from Amazon: Welcome to Mars

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About the reviewer:
Rick Houston is an avid collector of DVDs (he has more than 600). Houston is also a space history enthusiast, so he is sure to not miss a documentary or docudrama.

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