NASA (and XBox Gamers) Prepare for Terrifyingly Hard Mars Landing

Spirit and Opportunity
The left vehicle shows the twin Spirit and Opportunity rovers, the center machine is the Sojourner rover, and the car-sized Curiosity is on the right. NASA/JPL

NASA has an uncanny ability to dream up ideas that are so daring and so technologically masterful that the results can leave you drowning in awe.

In November of last year, the Mars Science Laboratory, carrying a rover that goes by “Curiosity,” blasted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop an Atlas V rocket. Since then, Curiosity has been cruising through space, preparing for its August 5 landing on Mars.

The Curiosity landing will take seven minutes and will be completely automated, as Mars is too far away for the entry to be controlled remotely. Adam Steltzner, an Entry, Descent, and Landing engineer with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says,

When we first get word that we’ve touched the top of the atmosphere, the vehicle has been alive, or dead, on the surface, for at least seven minutes.

Curiosity is the largest rover to date, and as such the air bag system used for the previous rover missions won’t be able to protect the heavier piece of equipment.

NASA’s video shows the intricate and disaster-prone landing sequence:

7 Minutes of Terror: The Challenges of Getting to Mars

Think you could make it safely down to the surface? There’s a free Xbox 360 video game that—if you have access to a Kinect Xbox motion controller—lets you try.

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