<p><strong>With luck, a <a href="http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/">NASA rover called Curiosity</a> will launch in the next few weeks and have a smooth ride to <a href="http://science.nationalgeographic.com/science/space/solar-system/mars-article/">Mars</a>, arriving in August of next year. Once there, the robot will be lowered to the red planet's surface by a giant cable, as shown in the artist's rendering above, part of a new system for landing large craft on other worlds.</strong></p><p>(Related: <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/07/110722-nasa-mars-rover-gale-crater-landing-site-curiosity-space-science/">"Next Mars Rover Landing Site Named—Gale Crater."</a>)</p><p>But first, the Curiosity rover has to ward off the "Mars curse."</p><p>In the space business, jokes about the curse have sharp edges. In the half-century since humans first tried to send a probe to the red planet, roughly two thirds of the 39 attempted missions to Mars have met a bad end. Some spacecraft plummeted back to Earth, while others fell silent partway through the trip. One Soviet craft exploded just after lifting off; another burned up attempting to land on Mars.</p><p>Earlier this month, <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/11/111109-russia-mars-mission-phobos-grunt-stuck-orbit-space-science/">a Russian spacecraft designed to travel to Mars's moon Phobos got stuck in Earth orbit</a> shortly after launch. So far, engineers have been unable to diagnose the problem.</p><p>For the latest NASA attempt, the stakes are high: At a whopping 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms), the Curiosity rover will be the biggest and most complex object yet landed on another planet. And the overall mission has a price tag to match—$2.5 billion for the rover, spacecraft, and other elements.</p><p>"Mars may interfere with us," NASA's Peter Theisinger, the rover's program manager, conceded at a prelaunch news briefing November 10. "Any entry, descent, and landing on Mars is a place where you ... bite your nails a little bit. It's not a risk-free environment."</p><p>(Also see <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/05/080513-mars-phoenix.html">"Mars Lander Team Prepares for 'Seven Minutes of Terror.'"</a>)</p><p>—<em>Traci Watson</em></p>

The Next Mars Rover

With luck, a NASA rover called Curiosity will launch in the next few weeks and have a smooth ride to Mars, arriving in August of next year. Once there, the robot will be lowered to the red planet's surface by a giant cable, as shown in the artist's rendering above, part of a new system for landing large craft on other worlds.

(Related: "Next Mars Rover Landing Site Named—Gale Crater.")

But first, the Curiosity rover has to ward off the "Mars curse."

In the space business, jokes about the curse have sharp edges. In the half-century since humans first tried to send a probe to the red planet, roughly two thirds of the 39 attempted missions to Mars have met a bad end. Some spacecraft plummeted back to Earth, while others fell silent partway through the trip. One Soviet craft exploded just after lifting off; another burned up attempting to land on Mars.

Earlier this month, a Russian spacecraft designed to travel to Mars's moon Phobos got stuck in Earth orbit shortly after launch. So far, engineers have been unable to diagnose the problem.

For the latest NASA attempt, the stakes are high: At a whopping 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms), the Curiosity rover will be the biggest and most complex object yet landed on another planet. And the overall mission has a price tag to match—$2.5 billion for the rover, spacecraft, and other elements.

"Mars may interfere with us," NASA's Peter Theisinger, the rover's program manager, conceded at a prelaunch news briefing November 10. "Any entry, descent, and landing on Mars is a place where you ... bite your nails a little bit. It's not a risk-free environment."

(Also see "Mars Lander Team Prepares for 'Seven Minutes of Terror.'")

Traci Watson

Illustration courtesy Caltech/NASA

Pictures: Five "Cursed" Mars Missions

The Mars curse has claimed roughly two thirds of all human attempts to reach the red planet—will NASA's Curiosity rover be next?

Read This Next

The science behind seasonal depression
These 3,000-year-old relics were torched and buried—but why?
How the Holocaust happened in plain sight

Go Further

Subscriber Exclusive Content

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet

Why are people so dang obsessed with Mars?

How viruses shape our world

The era of greyhound racing in the U.S. is coming to an end

See how people have imagined life on Mars through history

See how NASA’s new Mars rover will explore the red planet