If NASA's "Seven Minutes of Terror" video wasn't enough to get the public excited and engaged with the approaching landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, the agency is slowly turning the PR hype machine dial to 11 as a part of the build up towards the August 6, 1:31 a.m. EDT touchdown of Curiosity on Mars. It has announced the release of a video narrated in two separate audio tracks by different "Star Trek" actors, William Shatner and Will Wheaton. The landing sequence will also be broadcast live from New York's famous Times Square.
"Grand Entrance," the video narrated by Shatner and Wheaton, is a broad description of Curiosity's mission to Mars, starting with its launch last November through the "seven minutes of terror" and going into its primary two year mission examining the geology and soil of the Red Planet and suggesting the mission might provide information to the age-old question "Was there ever life on Mars?"
Shatner, never one to shy away from a podium, played Captain James T. Kirk in the original "Star Trek" series and the first set of movies. Wheaton played Ensign Wesley Crusher in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and currently plays a parody of himself on "The Big Bang (News - Alert) Theory." Both actors have armies of zealous "Trekkie" followers, so the pair of NASA videos is likely to draw considerable viewing statistics if nothing else.
Less certain is how many people will stand in New York City's Times Square to watch NASA TV coverage of the Curiosity landing. In an event billed by the agency as "Daring NASA Mars Mission Broadcast Lands in Times Square," the Toshiba (News - Alert) Vision screen will start the NASA TV feed beginning at 11:30 p.m. EDT August 5 and continue through 4 a.m. EDT the next day. You'd have to be a pretty hard-core space geek to stand in Times Square after midnight without the promise of a New Year's Eve party and champagne.
NASA's Curiosity has stiff competition for news headlines. The Olympics are the major story for the next two weeks, with U.S. broadcast -holder NBC running multi-channel live and time-delayed events on a near 24-hour basis. It is difficult to imagine NBC stopping its saturation coverage of the Olympics to spare more than 30 seconds to cover if the $2.5 billion dollar nuclear-powered rover successfully lands on the surface of Mars; a minute to 90 seconds if Curiosity fails and ends up creating a new crater.
Mostly lost in NASA's hype is that Curiosity is the last Mars landing the U.S. will conduct for a long time. Due to budget cuts, NASA had to opt out of a joint effort with the European Space Agency (ESA) to put a sample collection rover on Mars in the 2016/2018 launch windows and the agency has yet to announce what will replace it.
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Edited by Brooke Neuman