This artist concept features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life.
After a daredevil landing on Mars this week, NASA's new rover Curiosity is gearing up for the long haul on the Red Planet. But the rover still has time to star in a new National Geographic documentary chronicling its amazing pinpoint landing.
The one-hour documentary "Martian Mega Rover" airs tonight (Aug. 9) on the National Geographic Channel, just days after the Curiosity rover landed on Mars on Sunday (Aug. 5 PDT). It is one of at least two TV specials to spotlight the 1-ton rover's exploits on Mars. (A PBS documentary airing Nov. 14 is the other.)
Producer Mark Davis spent years following NASA engineers and scientists as they built the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission, which later was renamed Curiosity. His documentary chronicles the rover's construction challenges, a frustrating two-year launch delay due to technology hurdles, and finally the rover's spectacular, flawless landing on Mars this week.
With the documentary airing just three days after landing, Davis said he could only wait and see how the Mars landing would turn out.
"I figured that even if they had no confirmation of safe landing by air time, they would not have declared the rover dead yet," Davis told SPACE.com. [Curiosity Rover's 1st Photos from Mars]
And indeed, Curiosity wasn't dead. The rover landed right on target in the huge Gale Crater, with its novel rocket-powered sky crane system lowering Curiosity to the surface in a process NASA called "seven minutes of terror."
Minutes after landing, Curiosity beamed back its first pictures from the surface of Mars. Since then, a flood of photos of Mars have been captured by the rover, with even more amazing views from its high-resolution cameras expected to follow.
Davis said he didn't have much time to finish the documentary with the latest news from Curiosity's successful landing. He had just one day (Monday) to record as much post-landing material as possible at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., before traveling home to Washington, D.C., to finish the documentary.
"So we've had one day (Wednesday) to do the edit," Davis said. "It's pretty tight."
In "Martian Mega Rover," Davis follows the eight-year story of Curiosity and looks ahead to the rover's two-year mission to determine if Mars has ever been capable of supporting microbial life. The documentary includes animations of Curiosity developed by Dan Maas, the animator behind the IMAX film "Roving Mars" and the National Geographic Channel's "Five Years on Mars." Both of those films followed NASA's earlier rovers Spirit and Opportunity on Mars.
"The work these people do and the way they handle the pressure is the most impressive thing I've ever seen," Davis said in a statement. "It's been a privilege to watch it happen from the inside.
On Nov. 14, PBS will air another behind-the scenes look at Curiosity's mission called "Ultimate Mars Challenge" as part of its NOVA series.
"Sending Curiosity to Mars is a tremendous technological and engineering feat that could help us answer some of the most basic questions humankind has had about the origins of life and our place in the universe," Paula Apsell, NOVA's senior executive producer, said in a statement.
"Mega Martian Rover," will air at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel. NOVA's "Ultimate Mars Challenge" airs on Nov. 14 on PBS at 9 p.m. ET/PT and 8 p.m. CT.