The Mars rover Curiosity is a huge leap forward from previous rover technology; this sophisticated device was created by NASA and was launched on the 26th November 2011. After its 560-million-kilometer (350-million-mile) journey from Earth, the rover managed to perform some extremely complicated preprogrammed maneuvers in order to successfully land on Mars. This rover is an extremely expensive piece of technology, costing NASA some 2.5 billion dollars. This is the highest amount of money NASA has ever spent on a rover.
Curiosity's landing in Gale Crater was called the 7 minutes of terror, because NASA would not know for 7 minutes if the landing was successful. (The signal takes 7 to 14 minutes to travel from Mars back to NASA.) NASA chose Gale Crater for a number of reasons, one of them being that it was a big and safe crater for landing.
The rover has a weight of approximately 900 kilograms (1,900 pounds).
The process of landing was as follows:
- Cruise stage: Curiosity approached the planet and made the final important calculations for a successful landing.
- Cruise separation: Ten minutes before entering the Martian atmosphere, the cruise phase separated from the MSL and eventually burned up in the atmosphere.
- Guided entry: Small rockets on the MSL craft fired to control its descent.
- Peak heating: About eighty seconds after entering the atmosphere, the heat shield protected the MSL as it hit terminal velocity through the thickening Martian atmosphere. Temperatures reached 3,800 °F (2,100 °C).
- Heat shield separation: Roughly 5 miles above the surface, the heat shield separated from the MSL.
- Radar data collection: The MSL fired radar at the crater surface to determine the most suitable landing site in a predetermined zone.
- Back shell separation: The back shell (with the parachute still attached) separated less than 2 kilometers (0.6 miles) from the surface.
- The Sky crane lowered the rover using 3 thick metal wires.
- Touchdown, which was obviously successful.
Overall, this rover is the most sophisticated piece of technology NASA has ever sent to Mars.