Launched in November 2011, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, carrying the Curiosity rover, is just 100 days from touchdown on the red planet. Here are some illustrations to tide you over during the countdown.
The rover, NASA's largest ever, weighs more than a ton and is as big as a small car. It's on a mission to study the climate and geology of Mars, as well as prepare for future human missions. It's scheduled to roam the surface for 687 Earth days, or one Martian year.
Mars Science Laboratory will use new NASA innovations, particularly in its landing. It will descend with thrusters via a parachute. During the final seconds prior to landing, the rover will be lowered on a tether to the surface. Once on the surface, the rover's larger size and wheels give it the ability to overcome obstacles up to 75 centimeters high.
As NASA's Mars Science Laboratory reaches the Martian atmosphere, 81 miles above the red planet's surface, the spacecraft, which will have traveled for more than 8 months, will begin the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) phase. Thrusters firing during entry prepare the craft for its approach and landing at Mars' Gale crater landing zone.