July 31, 2012 at 3:57 AM ET
When it comes to Trek vs. Trek, it's usually Kirk versus Picard — but a brand-new pair of NASA videos previewing the Mars Curiosity rover's landing offers a different study in constrasts. Kirk versus ... Wesley Crusher?
NASA is following up on the $2.5 billion Mars mission's wildly successful "Seven Minutes of Terror" movie trailer with two versions of a video titled "Grand Entrance": one voiced by William Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk with classic swagger on the original "Star Trek" series; and the other by Wil Wheaton, who played kid genius Wesley Crusher on "Star Trek: Next Generation" and went on to become a geek icon (for example, as Sheldon Cooper's nemesis on "The Big Bang Theory").
The script for both four-minute-plus Mars videos is pretty much the same: They both begin with shots of Curiosity's assembly and move quickly through the Mars Science Laboratory mission's launch last November. They both spend a lot of time on the rover's entry, descent and landing, which is set for 10:31 p.m. PT Sunday night (1:31 a.m. ET Monday). They both marvel at the unprecedented sky-crane operation that will lower Curiosity to the surface from a rocket-powered platform.
Both Shatner and Wheaton end up addressing the main aims of the rover's two-year primary mission: How habitable was Mars in ancient times? What chemical clues remain detectable today? "This nuclear-powered, 1-ton rover will take us ever closer to examining deep layers of history, and perhaps closer to an answer to the ancient question: Was there ever life on Mars?" they say.
NASA says there's room for both videos.
"Shatner and Wheaton are mavericks in inspiring film, TV and social media audiences about space," Bert Ulrich, NASA's multimedia liaison for film and TV collaborations, said in a news release. "NASA is thrilled to have them explain a difficult landing sequence in accessible terms that can be understood by many. Thanks to their generous support, Mars exploration will reach Tweeters, Trekkies and beyond!"
But the dueling videos cry out for a totally unscientific popularity poll: How do you prefer your "Grand Entrance"? A la Kirk, or with a dash of Wesley? Or do you think "Seven Minutes of Terror" beats them both? Feel free to cast your vote in the poll above, and weigh in with your comments below.
More about the Mars mission:
Alan Boyle is NBCNews.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. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.