Curiosity's Landing, From the Perspective of the 3,000 People Who Helped Build It

"Seven years of my life and career come down to about seven minutes. I'm kind of freaking out."

Mark Rober is an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. In that role, Rober spent seven years working on the Curiosity project as NASA made its plans to explore Mars. "That's nearly my entire professional career," Rober notes, "and a quarter of my life."

Which makes you wonder: What must have it been like, given that investment, for Rober to experience Curiosity's "seven minutes of terror"? I, as a simple spectator, was feeling the pins-needles/edge-seat tension of the rover's landing attempt as I watched it from home; how would it have felt, though, to watch Curiosity's high-stakes, all-or-nothing bid for Mars had I dedicated seven years of my life to that bid's success? What would it have been like to watch, effectively powerless, as your career came down to split seconds spent on another planet?

I no longer have to wonder. Rober has produced a video of the landing -- a video told from his personal perspective, and from the perspective of the more than 3,000 people who, in some way, contributed to Curiosity's success. "Appropriately," Rober says, "there's been a lot of focus on Curiosity, the rover. But what I think makes JPL really great aren't its robots. It's the people who build them." 

He made the video, which focuses on Curiosity's climactic touchdown, to celebrate those people. It's sentimental, but it's a wonderful reminder that humanity, as well as plutonium, is fueling the robot that's roving Mars.

[Editor's coda: Perhaps all space videos should have this Friday Night Lights-like soundtrack. I get weepy the second I hear the guitars start noodling.]

Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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