The Mars Science Laboratory mission (MSL) is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of Mars.
The Curiosity rover, which was designed to assess whether Mars ever had an environment able to support small life forms and to determine the planet’s “habitability”, will land on the red planet on the 5th of August 2012.
Weighing in at 1 ton, Curiosity much heavier than NASA’s previous Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and cannot land with the assistance of cushioning airbags. Instead, parachutes will slow the MSL descent stage toward Mars at first. Then, the descent stage will use rocket engines to reduce its speed further. Finally, at about 35 meters (115 feet) above the surface, the Sky Crane system will lower Curiosity, wheels-down, toward the ground, attached to nylon tethers. The rover is designed to be gently settled on the surface, after which the Sky Crane will detach and fly off to land a distance away.
NASA will webcast the MSL landing.
Aug 5 – 10:31 p.m. Pacific
Aug 6 – 1:31 a.m. Eastern
Aug 6 – 6:31 a.m. UK