Nearly nine months after being launched from Florida, the Curiosity rover is just a few hours from landing on Mars.
After hitting the Martian atmosphere at thousands of miles an hour earlier Monday morning Eastern Time, much further down toward the surface, the space probe will still be traveling at about a thousand miles per hour. A parachute -- the largest supersonic parachute ever used on another world -- will then deploy, slowing the probe to about 250 mph. The rover will eventually be lowered to the planet's surface using a crane system anchored in the sky by rockets.
The rover is designed to spend two years exploring an area inside a crater that shows promising signs of many of the ingredients of life, such as past water -- though not life itself, according to NASA.
Below are some scenes from the Curiosity's development, one of Curiosity's own first photos (on the way to Mars), and a NASA video showing what the descent and landing might look like.
These are the first two full-resolution images of the Martian surface from the navigation cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover, which are located on the rover's "head" or mast. The rim of Gale Crater can be seen in the distance beyond the pebbly ground.(NASA/JPL-Caltech)
This is the first 360-degree panoramic view from NASA's Curiosity rover, taken with the Navigation cameras. Most of the tiles are thumbnails, or small copies of the full-resolution images that have not been sent back to Earth yet. Two of the tiles near the center are full-resolution.(NASA/JPL-Caltech)
This is a close-up view of a zone where the soil at Curiosity's landing site was blown away by the thrusters on the rover's descent stage. The excavation of the soil reveals probable bedrock outcrop. This is important because it shows the shallow depth of the soil in this area. The area surrounding the zones of excavation shows abundant small rocks that may form a pavement-like layer above harder bedrock.(NASA/JPL-Caltech)
This is the first image taken by the Navigation cameras on NASA's Curiosity rover. It shows the shadow of the rover's now-upright mast in the center, and the arm's shadow at left.(NASA/JPL-Caltech)
NASA's Curiosity rover and its parachute were spotted by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as the rover landed early Monday morning.(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona)
One of the first Curiosity photos shows the area around where the rover landed.(NASA/JPL-Caltech)
With NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft sealed inside its payload fairing, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket rises from the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Nov. 26, 2011. MSL's components included the Curiosity rover.(NASA/Scott Andrews/Canon)
An in-flight camera check on the MSL spacecraft included turning on lights that are part of the camera on one of the rover's instruments. The green dots are reflections of the LED lights from the unfocused camera.(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems)
NASA Animation of the Landing of the Curiosity Mars Rover
The target landing area for Curiosity is the ellipse marked in black on this image. It is about 12 miles long and 4 miles wide. The blue line indicates a potential route for driving to geological destinations identified from orbit.(NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS)
An artist's rendering shows a "sky crane" lowering Curiosity rover onto the surface of Mars.(AP Photo/NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Before launch, Curiosity went through many tests, including this one where it drove up a rampt at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., on Sept. 10, 2010.(AP Photo/NASA)
Engineers work on the Mars rover Curiosity at JPL on Sept. 16, 2010.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)