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LAUNCH November 26, 2011

Landing on Mars

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An Atlas V rocket sends the spacecraft carrying Curiosity on its 350-million-mile journey to Mars.

BLASTOFF

EARTH

MARS

LANDING August 6 (UT), 2012 February 2012

The voyage takes nearly nine months.

Upon reaching Mars, the cruise stage separates, and the aeroshell begins its descent.

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Cruise stage

Aeroshell

Phoenix

Moving at 13,000 miles an hour, the aeroshell enters the

Viking 2

Martian atmo

sphere

Viking 1

Pathfinder Curiosity

on a tra

jectory

towar d Gal

EQUATOR

Opportunity
0 mi 2,000

e cra

ter, a

Spirit

Landing site

96-m

ile-w

ide b

0 km 2,000

asin

nea

SCALE AT THE EQUATOR

r the

plan

ets

equ

ator

FWOOMP!

THEN
The heat shield pops off, and the sky crane is released. Retro rockets re.

AND FINALLY
About the size of a small SUV, the rover Curiosity will search Gale crater for past or present conditions favorable for sustaining life. Maximum speed: 470 feet an hour.
Cameras Rock-vaporizing laser and chemical-identication camera Organiccompound detector Radiation sensor

Mineralidentication camera Chemicalcomposition spectrometer

Weather sensors

Hydrated-mineral detector

The parachute deploys, slowing the descent.

Sixty feet above the surface, the sky crane lowers the rover on tethers. Clamps sever the tethers upon touchdown, and the crane ies off.

TO BE CONTINUED ...

CURIOSITY, A NEW ROVING ROBOT, is due to land on Mars in August, and this time NASA has left the air bags at home. The rovers predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity, bounced onto the red planet in 2004 encased in cushioning. Packed with more
cOpYRIGhT 2012 NATIONAL GEOGRAphIc REpRODUcED WITh pERmISSION

science gadgets, the latest visitor is bigger and ve times as heavy, so engineers needed a way to safely deliver a much larger package. Enter the sky crane, a new approach for NASA thatif successfulcould become standard for landing big bots on

other worlds. The cranes retro rockets allow for a gentle landing, and it will stay tethered to Curiosity until the rovers wheels are on stable ground. If all goes as planned, Curiosity will set down next to a three-mile-high mountain in Gale crater with rock

layers rich in clays and sulfates, minerals known to form only in the presence of liquid water, a key ingredient for life. Scientists hope these layers will yield a story of a planet with conditions that wereor arehospitable to life. Victoria Jaggard
OLIVER UBERTI, NGm STAFF. ART: NIcK KALOTERAKIS. NG mApS. SOURcE: NASA