The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft that carried Curiosity succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars.
The descent stage used rocket engines to reduce its speed and finally at about 35 meters (115 feet) above the surface, the Sky Crane system lowered Curiosity, wheels-down, toward the ground. It landed at the gentle speed of 0.6mph. Soon after landing the rover sent its first set of images of the red planet.
You can see the excitement of NASA engineers as Curiosity’s landing was confirmed.
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.