This Sunday, humanity takes one step closer to putting a person on a planet other than Earth. At 10:31pm PDT on Sunday, August 5th, the Mars Rover, Curiosity, will land on the red planet.
That is, as long as it survives what NASA is calling “7 Minutes of Terror”. The terror comes from the entry into the Martian atmosphere and perilous decent to the surface of the planet. This controlled chaos involves a heat shield that protects the lander from the 1600 degree temperatures of entry, a parachute that reduces the speed from 900 to 180 mph, 8 rocket thrusters and a sky crane that lowers the laboratory 25 feet to the ground.
During this complicated manuver, the lander will actually be out of communication with Earth for 14 minutes, so the onboard computer will have to ensure that the touchdown is a success.
I guess in gaming terms the event could be seen as success leveling up civilization to the next stage of research and exploration, eventually leading to a manned mission to Mars, while failure restarts the grind required to achieve that next level of achievment. Lets hope NASA has gained enough XP to reach that level.
For more information about Curiosity and the Mars Landing, take a look at the following sites:
To watch the landing coverage on Sunday: http://marsprogram.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/participate/