NGC special offers exclusive animation of historic Curiosity Mars rover landing

Early this morning Eastern Time (Aug. 6), the Mars Science Laboratory (a.k.a. the Curiosity rover) successfully landed on Mars. Built to last years and do things on the Red Planet that have never been done before, Curiosity has been hyped as rocket science on steroids. The $2.5 billion mega rover boasts a nuclear power supply, is equipped with a full laboratory that can test samples for organic building blocks of life and can trek across miles of rugged terrain while beaming back to Earth images in high-definition 3-D. Weighing in at nearly a ton, five times heavier than its predecessors, Curiosity challenged its creators every step of the way, forcing a radical new approach to landing that makes the traditional “Seven Minutes of Terror” (the wait between a spacecraft’s entry into the Martian atmosphere and its landing) pale by comparison.

National Geographic Channel (NGC) will premiere the one-hour special Martian Mega Rover Thursday, Aug. 9, at 10pm ET/PT, just three days after Curiosity’s historic touchdown. The program includes animation that breaks down each phase of the landing. Created by Dan Maas, the acclaimed animator who did the IMAX film Roving Mars and NGC’s Emmy-winning Five Years on Mars, photorealistic CGI simulates Curiosity’s entry into the atmosphere as a massive parachute deploys, rocket thrusters fire up and a sky crane safely lowers the rover to the ground.

With in-depth, behind-the-scenes access to the elaborate project — which took eight years from conception to touchdown — Martian Mega Rover also captures the gripping human drama behind every stage of the mission. Emmy-winning producer Mark Davis spent years embedded with the engineers and scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., as they struggled with enormous technical setbacks that doubled the budget and delayed launch for two years, before they finally accomplished a scientific dream — the most sophisticated robot ever sent to another planet.

Davis and NGC were at JPL’s headquarters during the rover landing, prepared to document either the excitement of a monumental success, or the utter disappointment of a crippling failure. Footage shot by Davis, combined with control-room footage from JPL and NASA-TV, will be inserted into the final minutes of the special, offering a complete perspective of every phase of the project.

Preceding the premiere of Martian Mega Rover, NGC will also air an update to the documentary Five Years on Mars, Aug. 9 at 9pm ET/PT. Now under the working title Eight Years on Mars, the film tells the story of NASA’s two original rovers, which were expected to last 90 days on the Martian surface. While one eventually sank in quicksand, the other is still rolling more than eight years later.

The updated special Eight Years on Mars (wt) airs Aug. 9 at 9pm ET/PT on NGC.

Martian Mega Rover premieres Aug. 9 at 10pm ET/PT on NGC.


Illustration courtesy Maas Digital LLC/National Geographic Channels