On Monday, August 6th, 2012, I got up four hours before the sun rose.  I wasn’t due on post for another five hours, and I’d barely slept, but there was history to observe – and the warm comfort of my bed wasn’t going to keep me from witnessing it.  I blindly silenced my phone’s alarm, slid out from beneath the sheets, and half stumbled down the stairs to my living room, where the laptop was already wired to the TV in preparation for my early morning show.

Thousands of miles away, scientists huddled around their computer screens, themselves connected to much larger screens than I could muster, but their anxiety about the events we were about to watch unfold was likely comparable to the differences in our viewing apparatus.

Millions of miles away, the Curiosity rover began its descent toward the Martian surface.

Because of Mars and the Earth’s respective locations in the solar system at the time, it took approximately fourteen minutes for a signal to travel at the speed of light from Curiosity to us, and as it began its descent, we would receive no signal at all for about half of that time – a period NASA’s team dubbed, “the seven minutes of terror.”  During that window of time, anything could go wrong, allowing years of work, as well as billions of dollars, to disappear into the Martian landscape forever.