June 22, 2012 at 8:31 PM ET
"The Dark Knight Rises"? Bah! If you measure the heft of a movie trailer by dramatic impact, "Seven Minutes of Terror" is the one to watch. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory released the five-minute trailer today to tout the upcoming entry, descent and landing of its $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, starring the Curiosity rover. That price tag amounts to 10 times the estimated production budget for "The Dark Knight Rises."
The Batman movie is likely to meet with wild success when it opens July 20. The Mars mission could bomb utterly when it lands Aug. 5. The wildest part of the probe's seven-minute ride through the atmosphere will come when a hovering "sky crane" is due to lower the car-sized rover to the ground within Gale Crater, then blast itself away before it falls on top of the darned thing.
Even JPL's engineers admit they sometimes think the concept is crazy. But to get a true sense of exactly how crazy, you have to watch the video. "If any one thing doesn't work just right, it's game over," engineer Tom Rivellini says.
Another engineer, Adam Steltzner, observes that it will take about 15 minutes for signals to make their way back from Mars to Earth during the landing. "So when we first get word that we've touched the top of the atmosphere, the vehicle has been alive, or dead, on the surface for at least seven minutes," he says.
I'm getting chills already.
For more about entry, descent and landing, or EDL, check out Emily Lakdawalla's preview on the Planetary Society's blog.
Alan Boyle is msnbc.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.