Launched November 26, 2011, the latest Mars rover, Curiosity
, is set to touch down on the red planet on August 6 (at 1:30 Eastern Time, thus August 5 at 10:30 p.m. Pacific Time). "It looks crazy", says EDL engineer Adam Steltzner. "It is the result of reasoned engineering thought... but it still looks crazy."
The car-sized Curiosity, said to be the most advanced planetary rover, should land next to a mountain to start a two-year journey during which time "unprecedented scientific detective work" will be done. But first, it must survive the landing, radically different this time from that of its two older - and smaller - siblings, Spirit and Opportunity. In fact, according to John Grunsfeld
, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, this landing is "the hardest NASA mission ever attempted in the history of robotic planetary exploration."
And as if the little (or big) machine didn't have enough pressure already on its wheels, let's not forget that this mission is the precursor to future human voyages to Mars.
Curiosity should land next to Mount Sharp
, in the center of Gale Crater. It will not bounce on the planet like the others before, but will be slowly deposited on the ground by a rocket-fired "wing", or sky-crane..
And since it will take 14 minutes for mission specialists on Earth to receive signal from the spacecraft that it has reached the top of the Martian atmosphere, once this signal gets here, Curiosity
will have already landed safely - or crashed - for a good seven minutes!
It is also reported in Wire
that a partnership between Microsoft and NASA has produced a game, Mars Rover Landing for Microsoft Xbox Kinect
, that takes players through the "seven minutes of terror" sequence of the landing.