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Old 06-22-2012, 11:49 AM
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The Mars Science Laboratory "Curosity" rover is scheduled to touchdown on Mars on August 5, 2012 at 10:31 PM PDT. That's coming up very soon. Here's a full version animation to recap the journey.

Mars Science Laboratory Mission Animation (Full Version) [720p] - YouTube

The real trick is going to be the landing using a method that's never been tried before. We can't really simulate the Martian gravitational force and atmosphere here on Earth. It takes about 14 minutes for a signal from Mars to reach the Earth. It will take 7 minutes from the time the craft reaches the atmosphere of Mars until touchdown. By the time the signal reaches us that it has reached the atmosphere, it will in fact already be on the ground either successfully or destroyed by a crash landing.

The entire complex process from the time it reaches the atmosphere of Mars has to work perfectly for a safe and successful landing. It will be entirely done by the onboard computer. Any error in the programming could mean "Game Over". Here's a more technical look at what's involved in the landing process.

Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror - YouTube
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