JPL Animation Shows Off New Mars Rover's Harrowing Travel Plan

A rocket launch, eight month space cruise, atmospheric re-entry, parachute deployment, and then rocket-powered sky crane drop... Doesn't get much crazier than that

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Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

JPL Animation Shows Off New Mars Rover's Harrowing Travel Plan

This video shows how the Mars Science Laboratory rover (aka "Curiosity") is planning to get from here to the surface of Mars. Since MSL is too large for airbags and Mars doesn't have enough atmosphere for a parachute to do the whole job, the only option is a rocket-assisted landing. The "sky-crane" system in the video above has never been used for a mission before, and I can't even imagine how agonizing it's going to be waiting to find out whether everything went successfully when touchdown happens in August of 2012.

Boing Boing recently had the chance to send a photographer to JPL to check out the more or less completed rover before it's sent of to Florida next month to prepare for its November launch. Here are a couple of my favorite pics:

Check out that beastly robotic arm and the friendly looking head. So cute!

That, uh, fetchingly ample rear end contains a radioisotope thermal electric generator, which is capable of producing power for a minimum of 14 years, which means MSL should still be wandering around by the time humans make it to Mars to personally congratulate the robot on doing such a bang-up job.

Swing by Boing Boing for the rest of the set, taken by photographer Joseph Linaschke.

[ Mars Science Laboratory ]

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