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NASA is live-streaming its Mars landing tomorrow night, and you can watch it free of charge on the web.

NASA will be starting the pre-game show at NASA TV at 8:30 p.m. Pacific on Sunday, August 5, 2012. If you’re on the East Coast of the United States, the show will start at 11:30 p.m. and will continue into the wee hours.

Also, if you prefer to watch the show sans commentary, silly interviews (Will.i.am, NASA? Really?), and social media chatter, you can check out the “listen and watch” feed, which contains only footage from the spacecraft and the control room. It’s what’s known in the space industry as “all killer, no filler.”


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The actual Mars landing will take place at 10:31 p.m. Pacific, NASA says. The $2.5 billion mission should take around seven minutes to make its landing on the red planet’s surface. The car-sized Mars Science Laboratory rover will land in Gale Crater at the foot of a layered mountain.

Here are some images of the rover, the landing site, and other mission elements:

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While earlier Mars missions were seeking basic elements such as water, and future missions may venture as far as searching for life, tomorrow’s landing is all about looking for “ancient habitable environments,” according to NASA’s site about the mission.

If you’re interested in going to Mars yourself, NASA plans on sending human types up there in 2021. So, you know, just enough time for you to brush up on your astronomy and geology and physics and engineering.

The Mars-bound space laboratory is loaded with technology, from software to robotics, to make that mission possible. Three antennae and a Mars-orbiting spacecraft will ensure reliable telecommunications with Earthlings, and the landing itself involves five different technologies, from the simple-ish parachute to image-guided powered descent.

The MSL will also use specially designed software for navigation and hazard avoidance, and the software will get daily upgrades from Earth-bound engineers.

“We are ready to go for landing on the surface of Mars, and we couldn’t be happier,” said Cal Tech’s John Grotzinger, a Mars Science Laboratory Project scientist working with NASA.

“I think this mission will be a great one. It is an important next step in NASA’s overall goal to address the issue of life in the universe.”

Here’s some more on the mission’s specific tasks:

The MSL rover … will also have a corer capable of acquiring samples from the interiors of rocks, and a scoop for acquiring regolith samples. These samples will be crushed into fines for delivery to onboard science-laboratory instruments capable of making new classes of measurements for Mars, including the determination of mineralogy, isotopic abundance, and the presence of organic compounds.

The rover will also host instruments for observing weather, determining the presence of subsurface water, and measuring the flux of radiation from space impinging on the surface. Information from these measurements have both science value and use for planning future human exploration of Mars.

The Mars Science Laboratory mission began with a takeoff on November 26, 2011 from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The launch vehicle was an Atlas V-541, a 191-foot-high, 1.17 million pound monster that got the lab spacecraft on its way to Mars.

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