Planning really started in 2004 when NASA asked for proposals submissions for its third-generation Mars rover program. Eight years later and at a cost of close to $2.5 billion, the Mars Science Lab is in the final phase of descent to the Red Planet. Around 40 minutes from now, the Mars Science Lab with its Curiosity Mars Rover will begin the so-called “Seven Minutes of Terror“, a four part automated landing sequence the required 500,000 lines of computer codes. The reason being is because of Curiosity‘s weight and size. Packed to the brim with nearly ten times as much scientific instruments as the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers, including 17 cameras and even a nuclear powerplant, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory decided to employ a new landing method. After a guided entry through Mars’ thin atmosphere, a supersonic parachute will slow the Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) system from 3.6 miles/second to around 1,500 feet/second. Then comes a powered descent, where rocket thrusters will slow the EDL further. The process allows radar to search for a flat surface and the deployment of Sky Crane, a hovering platform that will lower the Curiosity Mars Rover to the surface. All the while, NASA would not know if the landing is a success or not.
To see this historical event take place live, you can join thousands of space buffs around the U.S., including those standing in front of the Time Squares Jumbotron, now at the live broadcast from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory TV.