Several nights after Curiosity’s successful Mars landing, “Martian Mega Rover” (9 p.m., National Geographic) explains the extraordinary efforts behind the $2.5 billion space probe.
‘‘Mega” recalls how the plans to land the rover via parachutes and computer-guided rockets were initially dismissed as outlandish. Earlier Mars rovers crash-landed on the surface. This touchdown was spectacularly delicate in comparison.
‘‘Mega” uses animation to show the extreme difficulty of the proposed landing method. But its complexity pales in comparison to the engineering of the Curiosity itself. We visit the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., where the nuclear-powered vehicle was conceived and constructed after nearly eight years of testing and retesting.
If all goes according to plan, Curiosity will travel for two years over the Martian surface and send back high-definition imagery. It also includes a fully functioning laboratory that can test the red planet’s soil and determine if it contains any organic material — proof that Mars once sustained life.
The great mystery of “Mega” is why this documentary has to air so long after Curiosity’s nail-biting Mars landing. Why wasn’t it shown last Sunday to give viewers a better idea of the planning and science behind the mission — and to build some anticipation and pride in a spectacular accomplishment?
Television used to embrace science and was a big part of the space program’s sales pitch during its heyday. Sure, the selling of NASA had some propaganda elements, but it sure beat today’s cable television fixation on UFO sightings, Bigfoot theories, paranoid doomsday scenarios and other tales of fear and ignorance.
Tonight’s other highlights
• Scheduled events at the XXX Summer Olympics (7 p.m., NBC) include track and field, beach volleyball, diving and cycling.
• Charlie helps a patient make a breakthrough on “Anger Management” (8 p.m., FX).
• Michael endures an FBI arrest to get closer to a notorious Boston mobster on “Burn Notice” (8 p.m., USA).
vA body found in a ravine solves a missing person’s case on “Rookie Blue” (9 p.m., ABC).
• Mike and Harvey review the decisions that have left their firm in chaos on “Suits” (9 p.m., USA).
• A simple shopping trip turns into a calamity on “Louie” (9:30 p.m., FX).