Mars Rover Curiosity: How The Mars Science Laboratory Will Get From Earth To The Red Planet (VIDEO, PHOTOS)
If all goes according to plan on Saturday, a rocket carrying Curiosity, NASA's car-sized rover, will blast off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin a nine-month, 354 million-mile journey to the red planet.
Getting the one-ton Mars Science Laboratory to its eventual landing spot on the Gale Crater is complicated (understatement of the century), so the Jet Propulsion Laboratory produced a one-minute video that explains -- in pretty simple terms -- how something like the Curiosity travels from Earth to Mars.
According to the video, available below, you need three things to get to Mars: a rocket, good timing and great aim. (Of course, money is always good, too. The Associated Press reports that that the Curiosity mission costs $2.5 billion.)
With the rover sitting atop the rocket in its nose cone, the Atlas V-541 comes in at a whopping 1.17 million pounds. According to NASA, similar rockets were used to propel the Juno spacecraft and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Since Earth and Mars orbit the sun at different rates and different distances, the ideal period to launch something to Mars occurs only once every roughly two years. For Curiosity, NASA has set a launch window of between November 25 and December 18, 2011.
The narrator of the JPL video likens sending a spacecraft to Mars to passing a football. "You can't shoot for where Mars is at launch time," he says. "You have to aim for where it will be when you get there."
To this end, the spacecraft is equipped with thrusters that allow corrections to be made while the Rover makes its way to Mars.
After more than eight months of cruising to Mars, the Mars Rover Laboratory will enter the red planet's atmosphere at about 13,000 mph before making preparations to land.
And when the craft reaches the red planet? The Los Angeles Times explains how it will land:
In a spacecraft first, Curiosity will be lowered to Mars' surface via a jet pack and a tether system similar to the sky cranes used by helicopters to insert heavy equipment in inaccessible spots on Earth. No bouncing air bags like those used for the Mars Pathfinder lander and rover in 1997 and for Spirit and Opportunity in 2004 – Curiosity is too heavy for that.
Sounds complicated, right? According to the Associated Press, fewer than half of the nearly three-dozen missions to Mars have succeeded.
Click here to learn more about the Mars Science Laboratory.
WATCH: How Do You Get to Mars?
LOOK: Images of the Mars Rover Curiosity: