Curiosity, the one-ton rover that's headed to Mars to explore the Red Planet, is expected to land on the surface tomorrow at 1:31 am Eastern. And who better to explain that landing than Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner? NASA has enlisted both Shatner and Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher on 'Star Trek: The Next Generation') to narrate a video about the last part of Curiosity's trip to the surface of Mars.
The landing is being referred to as "seven minutes of terror" for two reasons. First, it will be an intense and action-packed seven-minute journey from travelling at 13,000 mile-per-hour speeds at the edge of the atmosphere to zero at the surface, with pieces of the landing craft intentionally being cast off throughout the descent. Second, the engineers who spent years designing and building Curiosity won't know if she made it down safely until after the fact - it takes 14 minutes to send a signal back to Earth.
For a brief overview of the challenges facing the craft, here's the video of William Shatner describing Curiosity's "grand entrance" to Mars:
NASA has bet a lot on the Curiosity mission: the vehicle itself cost $2.5 billion to build. And according to NBCNews.com, some are questioning the complicated strategy for landing the Rover safely, wondering whether the newly devised method will succeed. Aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, emphasizes the importance of the mission: "What's at stake here is the entire Mars program. If this fails I think it will be very hard to [get continued funding from] the Obama administration, as well as the fiscal conservatives".
Meanwhile Bobby Braun, NASA's chief technologist from 2010-2011, told Space.com that "everyone will be biting their nails, but that's not because they're not confident". He went on to say "the reason we're going to Mars is because it's an unknown. Space exploration is hard, and landing on Mars is one of the hardest things we do in space exploration".
And for another perspective, here's a video featuring some of Curiosity's engineers discussing the challenges of designing the craft, and their own feelings about the "seven minutes of terror", with very dramatic music laid over top:
William Shatner was in the red chair this season. Check out that interview below:
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