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.