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Backgrounder: Basic information about NASA's Mars rover Curiosity (2)

(Xinhua)

15:02, August 06, 2012

LANDING -- WHERE AND HOW?

Curiosity will land near the foot of a mountain near the middle of Gale Crater, which is the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. The landing system is similar to a sky crane heavy-lift helicopter. After a parachute slows the rover's descent toward Mars, a rocket-powered backpack will lower the rover on a tether during the final moments before landing. This method allows landing of a very large, heavy rover on Mars (instead of the airbag landing systems of previous Mars rovers). Other innovations enable a landing within a smaller target area than previous Mars missions.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE FOR THE ROVER TO GET TO MARS SURFACE AFTER IT REACHES THE OUTER ATMOSPHERE?

About seven minutes. Dubbed the "seven minutes of terror" by NASA, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft carrying Curiosity will employ a parachute, landing rockets, a hovering sky crane, and other complicated mechanisms to help lower the rover to the surface of Mars.

TOOLKIT

Curiosity will use 10 science instruments to examine rocks, soil and atmosphere. A laser will vaporize patches of rock from a distance, and another instrument will search for organic compounds. Other instruments include mast-mounted cameras to study targets from a distance, arm-mounted instruments to study targets they touch, and deck-mounted analytical instruments to determine the composition of rock and soil samples acquired with a powdering drill and a scoop.
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