Surging with confidence after the phenomenal success of the Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, NASA scientists and engineers had big plans for the next mission – a mega rover, the Mars Science Laboratory, aka the Curiosity rover. “There was a group adrenaline rush throughout the entire Martian community,” says engineer Gentry Lee, “that was almost like, ‘we can do anything!’” This would be rocket science on steroids – a roving laboratory built to last years, not months, and travel a dozen miles or more over rugged Martian terrain, carrying a dream payload of scientific instruments designed to settle once and for all the question of whether Mars is or was ever was a place that could support life.
Martian Mega Rover, premiering tonight at 10P, tells the gripping, inside story of how those ambitious plans collided with enormous technical challenges and setbacks that doubled the budget and forced the launch date to slip more than two years. Veteran writer/producer/director Mark Davis, whose Emmy winning 2008 NGC production Five Years on Mars told the story of the Spirit and Opportunity mission, spent years embedded with the engineers and scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, capturing the dramatic mix of anxiety, despair, and elation that played out over the long struggle to get the Curiosity rover to the launch pad and on its way to Mars. He describes the experience: “The work these people do and the way they handle pressure is the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen. It’s been a privilege to watch it happen it from the inside.” Along with the human drama, Davis also brings the rover to life, visualizing the challenges it will face landing and operating on Mars with vivid, photorealistic CGI by Mars visual effects specialist Dan Maas.
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. When Curiosity approached Mars traveling 14,000 miles per hour, the spacecraft flawlessly executed a complex series of pre-programmed events leading up to the moment when a radical new touch-down system called the sky crane, hovering on a set of rockets, lowered the rover to the surface of Mars directly on its wheels.
After years of testing, re-testing and even more testing, the hard work of thousands of people culminated during seven short minutes on August 6, 2012. Davis and NGC were at JPL’s headquarters during the rover landing, documenting the sheer excitement of a monumental success. Footage shot by Davis, combined with control room footage from JPL and NASA-TV, will be inserted into the final minutes of the Martian Mega Rover special, offering viewers a complete perspective of every phase of the project.
With original, high-fidelity CGI and unparalleled access behind the scenes, Martian Mega Rover offers a rare insight into the stomach-churning emotions involved in delivering a $2.5 billion robot to another planet.
Preceding the premiere of Martian Mega Rover, NGC will also air an update to its award-winning documentary Five Years on Mars on Thursday, August 9, at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Now called Eight Years on Mars, the special 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.
For more, tune in tonight!