At 12:11 am, Monday, Aug. 6, NASA's Mars roving explorer Curiosity begins its descent into the Martian atmosphere, touching down 7 minutes later. That's 7 minutes to go from 13,000 mph to 0 mph! In order to carry out this task, the one-ton spacecraft has to transform into six different configurations and set off 76 different pyrotechnic events. And it has to perform these tasks automatically — control from Earth is just not possible. It takes 14 minutes for radio signals to travel the 150 million miles between Mars and Earth. The landing will be over before NASA gets the first signal that it's begun!
The following video from NASA simulates vehicle actions during the seven-minute landing. “Sometimes when we look at it, it looks crazy,” says Adam Steltzner, one of the NASA engineers in the video below. But he then goes on to state, “It is the result of reasoned engineering thought.” *slight pause* “But it still looks crazy.”