NASA's 1-ton Curiosity rover, the centerpiece of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, is slated to land on the Martian surface on the night of Aug. 5 to investigate whether the planet is, or ever was, capable of harboring past or present microbial life. But first, the rover will have to survive a harrowing journey through the Red Planet's atmosphere — a process that has been nicknamed the "seven minutes of terror."
"Those seven minutes are the most challenging part of this entire mission," said Pete Theisinger, MSL project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "For the landing to succeed, hundreds of events will need to go right, many with split-second timing and all controlled autonomously by the spacecraft."
As Curiosity streaks through the Martian atmosphere, the spacecraft must slow itself from roughly 13,200 mph (about 21,250 kilometers per hour) to zero in only seven minutes. The rocket-powered sky crane, which acts similar to a backpack with three nylon cords attached, will help to control the rover's descent.
Let's hope that everything works out!