This is the first color panorama of Mars from Curiosity, and it is beautiful. (Of course, the rover-that-could Opportunity sent a prettier panorama a month ago…)

For the curious (har): National Geographic aired a special last night (alas!) on the years of ups and downs at NASA to get Curiosity to Mars. Lucky for you, they’re airing it again tonight at 9 p.m. EDT. Martian Mega Rover, says Nat Geo’s website,

…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.

Davis’ Five Years On Mars was aired before his new documentary–but it was renamed Eight Years On Mars because one of the two rovers launched in 2004, Opportunity, is still sending footage back (the two rovers were each meant for a 90-day mission; Spirit, the other rover, got stuck in 2009 and stopped transmitting in 2010). There’s still a feed of images from Opportunity, you guys! Obviously, Curiosity has more advanced gear (and carries more, at five times the weight). Below is a comparison of three generations of Mars rovers developed at JPL labs in Pasadena, California on their Mars Yard test facility.

Front and center is the flight spare for 1997′s Sojourner (under 24 pounds, two feet long), left is a test rover for 2004′s Spirit and Opportunity (400 pounds, 5.2 feet long), and right is a test rover for Curiosity (2,000 pounds, 10 feet long). Standing in the middle for scale are JPL eggheads Matt Robinson and Wesley Kuykendall.

Finally, NASA JPL dropped a recut of the Control Room footage from Curiosity’s landing spliced with the CG landing simulation from their “Seven Minutes of Terror” vid, all backed by a heart-pounding soundtrack. Which is pretty much NASA saving time and making the proto-trailer for the Curiosity movie we all know is in the works.



Video streaming by Ustream

(Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)