Mars mania! The Curiosity rover's "seven minutes of terror" inspire Chicago museums

The Mars Science Laboratory in flight, as depicted in an artist's rendering.

The Mars Science Laboratory in flight, as depicted in an artist's rendering. Photograph: courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

If you haven't seen the "Seven minutes of terror" video about the Mars landing, we'll start by telling you: It's a must-watch. Who knew the geek-geniuses at NASA's Jet Prepulsion Laboratory were so slick?

The United States launched a probe to Mars last November; after nine months of zooming through space, it's set to land late Sunday night (shortly after midnight—so technically, very early Monday morning). In an effort to educate us masses about the project via YouTube, a series of NASA engineers discuss the various stages of the Mars Science Laboratory's super-dramatic final seven minutes of flight. With its pulse-quickening sci-fi/horror soundtrack and dramatic lighting (some of the NASA nerds are half in shadow), the slick video is impossible to resist. As the scientists explain what (they hope) will happen during the craft's tumultuous seven-minute landing process, statistics flash on the screen: 76 pyrotechnic devices. 1,600 degrees. Oh, and "ZERO margin of error." (Even scientists get too excited to resist the caps-lock button.)

"If any one thing doesn't work right," one scientist intones, gravely, "it's game over." (We can almost hear Bill Paxton's warning to the Aliens cast.)

We bring up the video because it's the best way to capture everyone's attention about this monumental robot expedition—and the local events tied into it. But before we go any further, you really should just watch the vid. Go ahead, we'll wait.

Supersonic parachutes! Sky-crane maneuvers! Told ya it was really cool.

Of course, whether the Curiosity rover sticks its landing or dies a fiery, smashy death on the surface of the so-called Red Planet, celebrating the human achievements that made this interplanetary exploration possible is the goal of two of Chicago's finest museums, the Adler Planetarium and the Museum of Science and Industry. The Adler's hosting a Curiosity Landing Party Sunday from 9pm–2am, completely free, so you can bike or walk along the lakefront to the museum after you close down Lolla Sunday night and check out NASA's live feed. Meanwhile, MSI just opened a new mini exhibit, "Life in Space?", which contains a lot of cool info about Mars, past explorers (only six have survived their journey to our next-door planet neighbor) and a full-size replica of the real Curiosity. Time Out Chicago Kids has full details about both museums' Mars mania, plus info about the free Mars Rover Landing game you can download for Xbox 360.

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Laura Baginski, Editor (@TimeOutChicago)