I was able to get a ticket to go watch the NASA Curiosity Landing displayed on a giant screen at Moffett. They had some displays to show the different modules on the rover, including a laser that can actually do a basic detection of rocks from 7 meters away (so it can be busy analysing something locally while shooting its laser at other rocks to see if it should go there next).
The other interesting thing is that it weighs 900kg, or almost the weight of my miata, and that was the largest weight they had the technology to send to Mars, without it crashing on impact. The last rovers were 9 times lighter and were dropped in giant airbags. This was too heavy for airbags and had to be dropped with 2 different parachutes for different speeds, and then slowed down with trusters and a platform that lowered the rover down with cables on the ground and flew off. It was a very complicated list of things that had to go just right.|
I personally thought "no way, those guys are crazy", and they indeed called the landing "the 7 minutes of terror", but it not only went perfectly, the rover was also able to send pictures right after touch down, something that they weren't sure would work at all that night, due to radio relay line of sight issues.
It was flawless, great job folks!
Nasa Moffett designed and tested the chute in the wind tunnel
And then we "watched" a rendering of the landing from telemetry that was received (14mn late):
that's the flying platform lowering the rover to the ground with cables