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It's a Bird It's a Plane...It's a Sky Crane?



The Mars Science Laboratory's (MSL) aeroshell resembles (almost too ironically) a UFO straight out of Hollywood. At 15 feet wide, it's also huge. In fact, its the largest aeroshell in the history of space exploration.

Check out the intense virtual simulation above to view how the coolest part of the MSL, its novel "sky crane" works. Scientists designed the sky crane to control landing by slowing the spacecraft down to practically a halt right before it touches ground. Almost immediately afterward, the crane will detach itself and fly away.

Scheduled to launch in the fall of 2009, the Mars Science Laboratory will support the Mars Exploration Program in collecting as much data as it can to help determine whether the planet was ever habitable and to continue searching for clues to Mars' past climate and geology.

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