HansonMB writes "Aside from the Earth, Mars is the easiest planet in our solar system on which to land; there isn’t a crushing superheated atmosphere like on Venus, and there is a solid surface, unlike gas giants like Jupiter and Saturn. That said, it’s still pretty tough. More than half of all missions sent to land on the red planet have merely made craters. Spacecraft on Mars have used some pretty inventive methods to reach the surface unscathed, and the next system is by far the most intricate and insane: a novel device called the Sky Crane will lower the Mars Science Laboratory’s rover Curiosity to the red planet’s surface next summer. It’s the kind of solution that, once you really think about it, realize that it’s so crazy it just might work.
The main challenge of landing on Mars is that it isn’t Earth. With one-third the gravity and an atmosphere one percent as thick as Earth’s, a spacecraft falling to the surface doesn’t meet much resistance. As so, engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have come up with some creative solutions to effect a soft landing on Mars."
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