Click to see video of how Mars Curiosity will decend.
The new Mars rover has a complex and challenging sequence of events that must happen properly in the 7 minutes from the time it touches the top of Mars atmosphere at 13,000 mph, the heat shield heating to 1600 degrees to when it finally lands on the surface of mars. This time is known as the “7 minutes of terror”. NASA for all it’s issues has one flaw and that is that they make the complex look simple and therefore people do not realize just how hard what they do is. Getting to mars, and landing is an extremely complex event and not many can do it…just look at the recent failure of the Russian probe Phobos Grunt.
As Curiosity descends it will change vehicle configurations 6 times, fire 76 pyrotechnic devices, execute 500,000 lines of software code, deploy parachute, fire thrusters, seperate first from the parachute and then from the rocket lander, all with no margin of error.