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August 10, 2012

MSIS team members help NASA get Curiosity rover safely to Mars

Gale Crater, Mars - This week the sedan-sized Mars rover Curiosity was set down gently on the Red Planet by the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft with the help of "a rocket-propelled backpack" and powered descent Sky Crane system. After those critical moments of touchdown, 154 million miles from home, Curiosity beamed back to earth a hearty "all's well" UHF signal.

MSIS software engineers were part of the team led by prime contractor TASC that helped NASA design and test Curiosity's Entry, Descent and Landing system at NASA's Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility in Fairmont, WV.

"MSIS is proud to have contributed to the success of MSL," said MSIS President Paul Garnett. "MSIS has been involved in analysis of the design and the actual software code, in addition to managing part of this effort for TASC."

Carried aboard an Atlas V rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in November 2011, the MSL spacecraft landed Curiosity in Gale Crater on August 5, 2012.

The spacecraft approached Mars at roughly 1,000 mph. Parachute deployment slowed its descent to 200 mph, when the parachute was jettisoned and rockets used to further slow its descent to 2 mph. The one-ton descent stage released the rover 60 feet above the surface, the Sky Crane system setting Curiosity's wheels down in the Martian dust before launching itself skyward to land a safe distance away.

Soon after, Curiosity rolled out to begin conducting two years of scientific exploration and data gathering. Some of its first images showed the plume of dust sent up as the descent stage made impact.

MSIS employees were involved in analysis of all aspects of the critical MSL functionality, including the Entry, Descent and Landing system, system fault protection and autonomous surface navigation. MSIS employee Jeremy Fienhold served as Project Lead for the team of IV&V analysts conducting scheduled analysis during the eight months prior to the successful landing.

NASA's animated simulation of the landing is online at www.nasa.gov.

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