With luck, a NASA rover called Curiosity will launch in the next few weeks and have a smooth ride to Mars, arriving in August of next year. Once there, the robot will be lowered to the red planet's surface by a giant cable, as shown in the artist's rendering above, part of a new system for landing large craft on other worlds.
But first, the Curiosity rover has to ward off the "Mars curse."
In the space business, jokes about the curse have sharp edges. In the half-century since humans first tried to send a probe to the red planet, roughly two thirds of the 39 attempted missions to Mars have met a bad end. Some spacecraft plummeted back to Earth, while others fell silent partway through the trip. One Soviet craft exploded just after lifting off; another burned up attempting to land on Mars.
Glenn A. Walsh, Project Director,
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