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Mars rover's crazy-looking landing plan is technically sound, says NASA (+video)

NASA scientists say that the Mars Curiosity rover's audacious August 5 landing plan, which involves a hypersonic parachute, retrorockets, and a hovering 'sky crane' system is exactly what is needed for the $2.5 billion rover.

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The Mars Science Laboratory team members themselves have admitted that the landing will be nail-biter, as the fate of the rover's entire two-year mission rides on the Sky Crane working correctly.

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"Everyone will be biting their nails, but that's not because they're not confident," Braun told SPACE.com. "I've worked on a couple of Mars projects myself, and I can honestly say that there is no team more deserving of success through the actions they've taken than the MSL team. They've put everything into this and they rightfully should be confident. At the same time, the reason we're going to Mars is because it's an unknown. Space exploration is hard, and landing on Mars is one of the hardest things we do in space exploration."

Another aerospace engineer, Robert Zubrin, president of the Mars Society, agreed the Sky Crane plan is technically sound, but said he wished that a more field-proven technology had been chosen for such an important mission.

"I can see the arguments why it should work," Zubrin said. "I'm not one of these people who say, 'Oh, this is ridiculous.' However, it is its first time out. We've got an untried system being used on a mission in which the whole ball game is at stake."

Zubrin said the success or failure of the Sky Crane, and hence of MSL itself, will likely determine the future of Mars exploration.

"What's at stake here is the entire Mars program," Zubrin said. "If this fails I think it will be very hard to push back at the Obama administration, as well as at the fiscal conservatives. People will say, "Look, we just gave you $2 billion and you failed.' On the other hand, if it succeeds, I think the level of success is going to be very profound."

Follow Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+

Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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