PASADENA, Calif. (AP) - NASA's big, new Mars rover has plunged into the red planet's atmosphere to begin its descent to the surface.
The rover dubbed Curiosity hit the atmosphere Sunday night 78 miles above the planet at a speed of 13,000 mph. During a seven-minute plunge, it will rely on a heat shield, parachute and rockets to slow down.
NASA is testing out a new landing routine. The plan calls for Curiosity to steer itself part of the way in free-fall, deploy a parachute, fire rockets and in the final seconds be lowered to the ground by cables.
Its aim is a massive crater near the equator.
Curiosity was launched on a mission to study whether Mars' environment was ever favorable for microbial life.
The mission costs $2.5 billion.
The Associated Press