Mission To Mars
NASA's Curiosity rover is scheduled to touch down early Monday morning.
After eight months in space NASA's Curiosity Rover is closing in on Mars and what some say is the most difficult landing in the history of the space agency.
"We go from 13,000 miles an hour to zero in seven minutes," says NASA's Dr. John Grunsfeld.
NASA engineers call it "seven minutes of hell," the time it will take the rover to travel through the atmosphere to the surface of the Red Planet, when a series of intricate events must unfold perfectly, all choreographed by computers with no help from the ground.
"Entry, decent and landing is like a game of dominoes," Dr. Grunsfeld explains. "If one of them is out of place it's very likely the last domino won't fall, which means Mars Science Lab, Curiosity Rover, may hit the ground harder than we want it to."
Once safely on the surface of Mars the $2.5-billion nuclear powered rover will begin its two year mission.
"The answer that we are seeking with curiosity is to figure out if the conditions at any point in Mars history could have supported life," says project scientist Ashwin Vasavada.
Scientists will search for that answer with environmental sensors, chemistry instruments and radiation monitors, all part of the most advanced scientific payload ever transported to the surface of Mars.
"It truly is a step forward both in technology and potential science return and science capability to unlock the mysteries of Mars in places that have never been accessible to human kind in the past," Grunsfeld says.
If all goes according to plans the curiosity rover will land just after 1:30 Monday morning.