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Stephen Colbert offers a tip of the hat to NASA's Mars Rover (+video)

NASA administrator and veteran astronaut John Grunsfeld appeared on the Colbert Report on Wednesday, where he discussed the planned landing of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, which is scheduled to land on the Red Planet on Sunday night. 

By Denise ChowSPACE.com / August 2, 2012

TV comedian Stephen Colbert discusses NASA's Mars rover Curiosity landing with astronaut John Grunsfeld, NASA's associate administrator for science missions, on Aug. 1, 2012.

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Even TV comedian Stephen Colbert isn't immune to the excitement surrounding the historic upcoming landing of NASA's newest rover on Mars.

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The huge Mars Science Laboratory, also known as the Curiosity rover, is slated to touch down on the Red Planet on Aug. 5 at 10:31 p.m. PDT (1:31 a.m. EDT Aug. 6; 0531 GMT). The rover's thrilling descent through the Martian atmosphere is so complex that it has been nicknamed "the seven minutes of terror."

John Grunsfeld, a former veteran astronaut and NASA's associate administrator for science missions, spoke to Colbert about the Curiosity rover's landing Wednesday (Aug. 1), during an appearance on Comedy Central's hit late-night faux-conservative news show "The Colbert Report."

With the help of an animated video of Curiosity's landing, Grunsfeld detailed the steps involved in the rover's harrowing journey to the surface of Mars.

"As it enters the atmosphere, it will start slowing down," Grunsfeld explained. "It will reach about 10 Gs of acceleration."

Before setting its wheels down on the Red Planet, a supersonic parachute, followed by a rocket-powered sky crane, will help slow the rover's speed from more than 13,000 mph (21,000 kilometers per hour) to zero in only seven minutes. [Photos: Stephen Colbert Visits NASA]

"That's not science fiction — that's really going to happen on Monday," Colbert said following the animation.

Curiosity's descent through the atmosphere of Mars will be completely automatic, with mission controllers on the ground unable to intervene during any part of the complex procedure. This prompted Grunsfeld to joke that famed Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, will not be present to help maneuver the car-size rover to the Martian surface.

Grunsfeld also explained that news of the landing will likely be delayed by at least 14 minutes, which is the time it takes for a signal from Mars to reach Earth.

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