Someone at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory had a brilliant idea!
At a time when top NASA managers and PR people can spend days and - you can be sure - plenty of dollars trying to figure out how to "engage" the public in the space program, some unsung space cadet at JPL thought of putting a webcam in the clean room where technicians are assembling the Mars Science Laboratory.
Wanna see? Click here.
How's that for engagement?
That's the MSL in the middle. The video feed is high quality, so when there are technicians working on the big rover - dubbed Curiosity - it's like you're watching them through a window.
If you go to the MSL website - here -- you can find more detail about what you're watching.
The rover is scheduled to remain at JPL until it ships out to its Florida launch site next spring, so it will be fun to watch the hardware grow into its final form.
This kind of continuous, you-are-there coverage should also give the lie to world-wide-web know-it-alls who think spacecraft are easy to build, and don't encounter problems along the way.
I'll bet there will be lots of time when the technicians are off-camera trying to figure out how to do something that's proved harder than expected, or deal with some problem that cropped up unexpectedly.
Don't be alarmed. No one has ever built a Mars rover the size of a Mini-Cooper, but the men and women doing it aren't afraid to try.
There will be times when it probably would be more exciting to watch a crew paint a house than to watch these experts do their thing. But this is reality TV, for real, and over time you'll get an idea of just what it takes to explore our Solar System.
Congratulations, JPL; it's a very cool idea.