It [Mars landing] is the result of reasoned engineering thought, says lead engineer, Adam Steltzner, but it still looks crazy.
Yes it does, but guess what. It worked. Nasa landed their Curiosity rover in a crater on Mars after an incredibly complicated series of manoeuvres, any one of which could have gone wrong and scuppered the whole €2.5 billion mission.
It takes a signal fourteen minutes to travel from Mars to Earth. From the time the lander hit the Martian atmosphere, the descent to the surface took seven minutes. Therefore, by the time the Nasa engineers knew they’d reached the atmosphere, their mission had already either succeeded or failed at least seven minutes earlier.
The spacecraft went from 13,000 mph to zero in those seven minutes, first using the Martian atmosphere as a brake, then a giant parachute, followed by rocket thrusters allowing it to hover while it gently winched the rover to the surface on cables before finally flying safely away in one last act of self-sacrifice, to make sure it didn’t fall on the ground vehicle when the fuel ran out.
It’s out there now, on the surface of an alien world. A semi-sentient mechanical creature of our making, looking around at the terrain, checking it’s still healthy after the journey and choosing its moment to start exploring its new and final home.