Intermission: This Is How the Mars Rover Will Land (in Theory)
The Mars Science Laboratory (also known as MSL or, more familiarly, Curiosity), NASA's most sophisticated rover to date, is currently hurtling towards Mars. Packed inside a protective aeroshell, it is scheduled to enter Mars' atmosphere on August 5. At that point, it will begin a carefully choreographed operation to land safely without burning up in the atmosphere or crashing on the surface of the planet. The animation above, from the Get Curious campaign, shows how this is all supposed to work. If things go according to plan, the rover will hang out on Mars for almost two Earth years, investigating the planet's habitability and gathering data for possible future manned missions to the Red Planet. Good luck, scientists!