When all the hugs and rounds of cheering at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena finally died down late last Sunday night, the scientists, engineers and navigators who had just improbably placed a car-sized planetary rover onto the surface of Mars dutifully returned to their terminals to commence years of surface exploration.

The details of the entry, descent and landing, almost preposterous on the surface, make it no surprise that many years of planning, calculations and building led up to the daring touchdown of Curiosity. The 14 minute transmission delay between Mars and Earth meant the landing would meet its fate before the signal arrived back at Earth. It inspired a viral movie JPL dubbed “7 Minutes of Terror.”

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