The rover curiosity spent 8 1/2 months traveling from earth to the edge of Mars' atmosphere and will spend another 2 years exploring the surface of the planet. But the most crucial moments of the entire mission were the 7 minutes that it took for curiosity to travel from the edge of the planet's atmosphere to landing in the Gale Crater on Mars.
To witness the historic moment, NASA broadcast the final decent on the big screen in Times Square. While crowds gathered in New York, looking up at the jumbo-tron to witness the historic event, the team from NASA was confident that the Curiosity would make a successful landing, even forgoing a final chance to adjust the flight path before decent because it was right on target.
However once the Curiosity entered the planet's atmosphere it was on its own, with nothing but 500,000 lines of computer code meticulously written to choreograph the safe landing. With the team at NASA sitting back and eating peanuts waiting for data, the Curiosity flew towards Mars at 13,000 mph while dealing with temperatures of 3,800 degrees as the friction in the atmosphere slowed it down to 1,000 mph in an instant before a parachute deployed to slow it down even further.
The curiosity and its outer shell then released from the parachute as high powered pyrotechnics, similar to those in Iron Man's feet, allowed it to hover above the surface. But the outer shell with the pyrotechnics couldn't get too close to the surface because if it did it would turn up a world of dust so NASA had to design a suspension system to lower the curiosity on its own down to the surface and begin its journey on the Red Planet.
When data came back to the NASA command center the scientist and engineers celebration made an Olympic gold medalist seem tame. They pumped their fists, hugged and drank champagne knowing that the "7 minutes of terror" were over and successful.
- Space & Astronomy