Image: NASA/JPL – CalTech
Experimentation will continue in the Martian atmosphere, where sensors in the heat shield will test atmospheric pressure and heat levels upon entry. Recovered data will allow scientists to calculate what kind of craft living astronauts will need for safe entry.
Image: NASA Goddard Photo and Video
Unlike previous rovers that were simply dropped into the atmosphere and allowed to bounce to the surface surrounded by cushions, Curiosity, weighing in around a ton, will have to rely on new technology to land.
Image: NASA/JPL – Caltech
When the MSL approaches Mars, the cruise stage will jettison, leaving the flying saucer-like “aeroshell”. The aeroshell will hit the top of the atmosphere at a mind-melting 13,000 mph and deploy a chute.