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What causes the '7 minutes of terror' in Mars Rover landing? (+video)

The NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars's present or past ability to sustain microbial life, is due to land on August 5, almost nine months after its launch.

This 11-minute animation depicts key events of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, which will launch in late 2011 and land a rover, Curiosity, on Mars in August 2012.
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In just six weeks, NASA's next Mars rover will attempt an unprecedented landing on the Red Planet that will have mission engineers on the edge of their seats with excitement and worry.

The 1-ton Curiosity rover — the centerpiece of NASA's $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission — is due to touch down inside the Red Planet's Gale Crater on the night of Aug. 5. But it won't be easy.

"Entry, descent and landing, also known as EDL, is referred to as the 'seven minutes of terror,'" EDL engineer Tom Rivellini, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., said in a recent JPL video.

"We've got literally seven minutes to go from the top of the atmosphere to the surface of Mars, going from 13,000 miles per hour to zero in perfect sequence, perfect choreography, perfect timing," Rivellini added. "And the computer has to do it all by itself, with no help from the ground. If any one thing doesn't work just right, it's game over."

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