A NASA depiction of the sky crane being used to lower Curiosity on to the surface of Mars. (Photo : NASA)
The NASA rover set for Mars, Curiosity, is set to land in five days, on August 6, at 1:31 a.m. EDT. The landing procedure will have to be completely automated by the spacecraft's systems, and will have to slow them down from a speed of up to 13,000 miles per hour. What's worse? Radio signals from the rover will take 14 minutes to reach Earth, leaving NASA scientists to dub the period of radio silence '7 Minutes of Terror.'
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To explain how complex and intricate the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) is, NASA employed a couple famous personalities, William Shatner and Wil Wheaton from the popular space sci-fi television series "Star Trek," to narrate a couple movies explaining the landing procedure.
"The Grand Entrance" with William Shatner:
"The Grand Entrance" with Wil Wheaton:
A previous video named "7 Minutes of Terror," where NASA scientists explain why the landing is so nail-biting was also released by NASA back in June.
A statement from NASA stated that Curiosity began EDL procedures on July 30, six days before it is expected to touch the top of the Martian atmosphere.
"Today, the Mars Science Laboratory flight team begins executing its procedure for entry, descent and landing (EDL), and the spacecraft begins its sequence of autonomous activities leading to the landing this coming weekend. These activities include enabling needed components and setting final parameters. In addition, the schedule over the next several days includes opportunities to update parameters for the autonomous software controlling events during EDL."
The Curiosity rover, or Mars Science Laboratory, cost around $2.5 billion and will be lowered onto the surface by an untested sky crane.
NASA hopes to use the Curiosity rover to scoop up geological samples from the Red Planet's surface after landing in the Gale Crater. The data it will relay back will be used by scientists to not only understand our neighboring planet better, but also to begin thinking about a future manned-mission to Mars.