The project is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, with the ultimate goal of landing Curiosity on Mars, in Gale Crater, at about 10:31pm PDT (1:31 am EST) August 5/6.
About NASA's Curiosity Mission
Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), known as Curiosity, weighs a metric ton. That's 2000 pounds of genius packed into a machine as wide as a Hummer and as long as a mini cooper. She's the Einstein of robots, and she has one painstaking question to answer; is or has there ever been life on Mars?
From her one-of-a-kind, custom built heat shield that is designed to withstand intense, 1,600 C degree heat and speeds up to 21,735 km/hr, to her state of the art supersonic parachute that will endure 65,000 pounds of force - Curiosity is set to break all records.
For the first time ever a rover will be able to supply NASA - and the rest of the world - with stunning HD images from 17 different camerasâ€”4 of which are hugely scientificâ€” these 4 cameras will be capable of allowing us to see Mars in a way we never have before! She is equipped with a ChemCam that is able to zap rocks with a laser that's as powerful as a million light bulbs focused on the head of a pin. She will drive for hundreds of kilometres and use her massive robotic arm to drill into Gale Crater; a multilayered cake of Martian history.
Entry Decent and Landing, or EDL, is known as the seven minutes of terror. Curiosity has seven minutes to get from the top of the Martian atmosphere to the surface - these seven minutes will have every scientist and engineer turning blue.
Instead of the familiar airbag landing of past Mars missions, Curiosity will use the sky crane touchdown system, which will be capable of delivering a much larger rover onto the surface. This is the first time something like this has EVER been done. Once MSL has slowed right down, the sky crane is responsible for tethering Curiosity down over 20 feet to the surface before it severs its connection and blasts away, never to be seen again. If all goes according to plan - a BIG IF -Curiosity will be left alone on the surface of Mars, ready to begin her scientific mission...
The heat shield is the first mechanism/device that helps to rapidly slow down MSL, it provides aerodynamic drag that decelerates the vehicle from 13000 miles per hour to 1000 miles per hour; it takes out about 99 per cent of the energy away.
Next, the parachute deploys. It is the largest and strongest super sonic parachute EVER built, its 21 and a half meters almost 65 feet in diameter and it's behind the capsule about 50 meters or about half a football field behind the capsule, and when it inflates at two times the speed of sound about 1000 miles per hour, it takes 65000 pounds of force and very, very quickly decelerates the space craft. The parachute's made out of nylon, the broad cloth material is a nylon, and the suspension lines, the ropes that hold the parachute to MSL are made out of Kevlar and teknora which is very similar to Kevlar, just slightly different material properties.
Why Gale Crater? What's exciting about Gale Crater is that above the clays (which we can see from obiter images) we see a transition to other types of minerals and then to basically dust, and that transition from the clays to the other minerals to the dust is kind of a history book that tells the whole story of mars. From orbital images, scientists have been able to piece together an overall sequence of the martian timeline. Inside Gale Crater, scientist will be able to explore a layer-cake of history that will be crucial in helping to answer the question: Does or did life ever exist on mars?
In the middle of the crater, there is a huge mound called mount sharp which it's about 3 miles high. So if you're looking at if from the ground which we will be when we land, it's about the height of Mount Rainierâ€”one of the big mountains in the continental United States. Its not a volcano like Mount Rainier, its actually more of a gentle slope, so it's a huge massive, but gently sloping mountain about 3 miles above the surrounding plains.
When MSL hits the Mars atmosphere she'll be going 13000 miles per hour, that'd be like getting from LA to New York City in 15 minutes.