Curiosity Rover Lands on Mars

Mount Sharp, photographed by NASA's Curiosity rover shortly after it landed on Mars. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

On August 5, 2012, the Curiosity rover landed on the Red Planet in what The New York Times calls “a flawless, triumphant technological tour de force.” It took the rover over eight months to make the 352-million-mile trip (10+08).

In a recent video, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) details the final minutes of the rover’s dramatic descent to Mars, in what it calls “Curiosity’s Seven Minutes of Terror.” EDL engineer Adam Steltzner explains that, as the rover “slammed into the atmosphere” (primarily composed of carbon dioxide molecules 10-10 meters across), it created so much aerodynamic drag that its shield heated up to a toasty 1,600 degrees (10+03).

JPL designed an elaborate system to slow down the one-ton rover for its landing, which included making a supersonic parachute.  The largest ever made, the parachute weighed only 100 pounds (10+02), but was strong enough to withstand 65,000 (10+04) pounds of force.

Now that the rover has arrived safely, “it will seek to answer age-old questions about whether life ever existed on Mars—or if the planet can sustain life in the future,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

To learn more about Curiosity’s 98-week mission, visit www.NASA.gov.

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