(MSNBC) If NASA's 2009 Mars Science Laboratory reaches the red planet's surface in one piece, the agency will owe a debt of gratitude to the Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane heavy-lift helicopter.
Like its namesake, NASA's Sky Crane carrier platform will hover above its drop site - albeit with retrorockets rather than rotor blades - and lower its payload, the compact car-sized MSL rover, to the surface using a winch and tether. As soon as the rover is ready to roll, the tether connection will be severed and the Sky Crane will fly off and crash land a short distance away.
NASA seems to be favoring this method as the current "balloon bounce" on the Martian world does not give the space agency many options to land (as the landing site has to be free from sharp rocks).
Using the Sky Crane will enable NASA to land the rover or craft virtually anywhere on the Martian surface, allowing them to explore key areas on Mars and hopefully discover some resources to make the trip worth it.
Hopefully sometime in the current century humanity will be able to actually visit the Martian landscape, although we may have to wait sometime after the first space elevator is built in order to make the journey cheap enough.
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