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NASA's Seven Minutes of Terror: Curiosity's precarious Mars landing explained (video)

Joseph Volpe, @jrvolpe
June 25, 2012
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Edited and scored with the dramatic tension of a summer blockbuster trailer, NASA's put together a gripping short clip that dresses down Curiosity's mission to Mars for the layman. The "car-sized" rover, set to touchdown on August 5th of this year at 10:31PM PDT, is currently journeying towards the Red Planet on a suicide mission of sorts, with the success of its make it or break it EDL (enter, descent, landing) wracking the nerves of our Space Agency's greatest minds in advance. Their cause for concern? A period of radio silence, dubbed the "seven minutes of terror" for the amount of time it takes a signal to reach Earth, during which the craft will have already either smashed disastrously into the Martian landscape or nestled perfectly down from the ascend phase on a 21ft long tether. The logistics involved are so numerous and prone to error -- slowing the craft from 13,000 mph to 0 mph and then deploying, detaching and avoiding collision with the supersonic parachute for starters -- that it's a wonder the government ever signed off on the project. If it all does come off without a hitch, however, the ladies and gents down at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory certainly deserve several thousand bottles of the finest bubbly taxpayers' money can buy. Click on past the break to gape at the sequence of engineering feats required to make this landing on terra incognita.

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