National Geographic : 2012 Feb
NEXT 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 rover's predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity, bounced onto the red planet in 2004 encased in cushioning. Packed with more science gadgets, the latest visitor is bigger and five times as heavy, so engineers needed a way to safely deliver a much larger package. Enter the sky crane, a new approach for NASA that---if success- ful---could become standard for landing big bots on Landing on Mars BLASTOFF FWOOMP! THEN The parachute deploys, slowing the descent. The heat shield pops off, and the sky crane is released. Retro rockets fire. Sixty feet above the surface, the sky crane lowers the rover on tethers. Clamps sever the tethers upon touchdown, and the crane flies off. Moving at 13,000 miles an hour, the aeroshell enters the Martian atmosphere An Atlas V rocket sends the spacecraft carrying Curiosity on its 350-million-mile journey to Mars. 3... 2... 1...