Following the initial entry into the Martian atmosphere, the lower heat shield of the aeroshell protecting the Curiosity rover during its travels is jettisoned, and a parachute is deployed to slow the descent. The Curiosity rover is about five times larger than the Spirit or Opportunity Mars exploration rovers and carries more than 10 times the mass of scientific instruments, presenting NASA with new challenges.
To hold the weight of the craft, the Mars Science Laboratory mission will use the largest parachute ever built to fly on a planetary mission. The chute is about 10 percent larger in area than the one used for the Mars Exploration Rover mission, and that mission was 40 percent larger than Pathfinder's parachute. Designed to survive deployment at an astounding Mach 2.2 in the Martian atmosphere, the parachute, which has 80 suspension lines, is more than 165 feet long and opens to a diameter of almost 51 feet. In the Martian atmosphere, the descent will generate around 65,000 pounds of drag force during its descent.