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This article is from the In-Depth Report NASA's Curiosity Rover Touches Down on Mars
60-Second Space

Mars Rover Prepares for 7 Minutes of Terror

The Curiosity rover is set to begin exploring Mars on August 6. But first it has to land. John Matson reports

Big rover, big-deal landing.

Mars should soon have a new resident. On August 6th, NASA’s latest rover, Curiosity, is scheduled to arrive. Curiosity is the size of a compact car, and it’s fully loaded—with an unprecedented collection of science instruments.

But before those instruments get put to work comes Curiosity’s descent and landing process sequence—what’s being called the “seven minutes of terror.” It includes parachutes, landing rockets and a hovering sky crane to lower the rover to the surface.

At a July 16th news conference, NASA’s Doug McCuistion tackled the obvious question: “Is it crazy? Well, Not so much. Once you understand it, it’s not a crazy concept. It works. Is it risky? Landing on Mars is always risky. There are hundreds of discrete events that occur, from release of the cruise stage to parachute deployments to heat shield deployments. All of these are unique, and any one could cause problems. We go from 13,000 miles an hour to zero in seven minutes. That’s quite a challenge in itself. And then there’s the unknown, there’s Mars. Mars throws things at you: dust storms, atmospheric density changes, wind. So it’s a very unique and a very challenging environement.”

If all those challenges are met, the rover should help settle the question of whether Mars once had conditions favorable for life. Thus satisfying Curiosity.

—John Matson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

 

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