The touchdown on August 6 of the Mars Science Laboratory involved the most elaborate attempt yet to drop a robotic vehicle on the surface of the Red Planet, and required a heat shield, supersonic parachute and rocket-powered sky crane.
The process, known as entry, descent and landing, or EDL, was referred to as “Seven Minutes of Terror” by NASA, but went off without a hitch, in what President Barack Obama called an “unprecedented feat of technology.”
On approach, a heat shield protected the Curiosity rover’s fiery entry into Mars’ atmosphere, a parachute deployed to slow it down, and the spacecraft backshell separated.
Then, a rocket powered backpack was fired to power the one-ton rover downward before it was lowered by nylon tethers. The sky crane was designed to detach and fly away to crash somewhere to the north.