Join scientists worldwide Sunday night as they watch the Curiosity rover, the largest and most sophisticated vehicle ever sent to explore Mars, make its much-anticipated landing.
At 10:31 p.m. Pacific time, Curiosity's landing system will lower the 2,000-pound rover to Mars' surface using parachutes and rockets. Because of the time it takes to send radio signals between Earth and Mars, the rover has been programmed to land itself.
NASA has called the $2.5 billion mission its most complex. The spacecraft has been traveling through space -- Mars is about 35 million miles away -- since its Nov. 26 launch from Cape Canaveral.
The Jet Propulsion Lab engineers, which include six alumni of San Diego State University among their ranks, according to SDSU, have taken to calling the landing of the car-sized craft "seven minutes of terror."
Curiosity carries 10 instruments and a laser designed to study the makeup of the red planet's atmosphere and geology, provide daily weather data and hunt for water. If the rover lands safely, some of the instruments will blast rocks and then use a spectrograph to study the resulting vapor, according to the online publication Wired Science.
Want to take a closer look at the planet where the rover will land? Visit the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center for a program on the space mission tonight. Beginning at 7:30 p.m., the program will cover the spacecraft's entry into the Martian atmosphere at about 13,200 miles per hour.
The event includes a presentation on Curiosity by NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Jerry Hilburn, a planetarium presentation on Mars by the museum's resident astronomer, Lisa Will, a video called “Seven Minutes of Terror,” and a live video feed of NASA coverage of the landing.
The event is open to the public and costs $8. It is ticketed separately from normal admission and membership.
City News Service contributed to this report.