The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) will take the 1-ton Curiosity rover from Earth, where it was launched on November 26, 2011, to the Mars' surface. It must descend in steps, each one as complicated as the others.
A new high-precision entry, descent, and landing system will be used that uses six vehicle configurations, 76 pyrotechnic devices, the largest supersonic parachute ever built (but still weighing a mere 100 pounds), and more than 500,000 lines of computer code.
All of it will be handled by an onboard computer, without the need for human intervention.
Rockets, aerobraking, parachutes, a never-before-used sky crane, and other elaborate devices will be used to softly touch down the Curiosity rover onto Mars.
Days before the Martian landing, 99 percent of the mission to Mars is complete. But, now the last seven minutes are up for grabs.
What it comes down to is that either Curiosity will soft land or it will hard land.
NASA hopes the landing will be nice and soft. Robert Zubrin, the president of the Mars Society, calls the landing either "victory or death".
With two billion dollars invested in it, a crash landing will probably sink further robotic exploration of Mars over the next few years. A controlled landing and successful two-year mission will help to generate more funds for further exploratory missions to Mars.
The team members at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) share the challenges of the Curiosity Mars rover's final seven minutes before landing on the surface of Mars.
See it at the YouTube video "Challenges of Getting to Mars: Curiosity's Seven Minutes of Terror". (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ki_Af_o9Q9s)