August 5, 2012: Curiosity will be landing on Mars.
All by itself, no help from the ground controllers.
As a kid who grew up in the age of X-planes (X-15 – coolest/scariest EVER and still holder of many records), I find this kind of stuff just fascinating.
It takes about 14 minutes for a signal to get from Mars to us here on Earth. This means that by the time the team gets the signal that Curiosity has made contact with the outer atmosphere of Mars (what there is of it), Curiosity will either be down on the surface in one piece or it will be a smoking crater.
NASA’s calling it “Seven Minutes of Terror” in their presentations.
They have a video on YouTube, and it already has more than a half-million hits:
I remember watching the drama unfold in real time as John Glenn was about to come back from circling the earth. It was feared that his heat shield had come loose, so the retro-pack was left attached instead of separating it. High drama for then, because you didn’t know what was going to happen. We literally did not know from one moment to the next whether or not the country would welcome Glenn back or be burying his remains. This was when news was covered as news and not over-analyzed, hyped, spun, and critiqued as it is so often today.