April 8, 2011
When parachutes and airbags won’t do the trick, you’ve got to land like a hovercraft, lowering precious cargo from a flying crane.
Check out this amazing new animation of NASA’s new Mars rover, the car-sized Mars Science Laboratory, on its harrowing journey to the red planet.
The rover, also called Curiosity, is too big to land bouncing along airbags a la its predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity. And Mars doesn’t have enough atmosphere for a parachute to slow it sufficiently. So engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory came up with this hybrid approach, involving a rocket-slowed descent and a “sky crane.”