(NBC) - After eight months in space, NASA's Curiosity rover is closing in on Mars for a landing that may be the most difficult in NASA's history.
NASA engineers call it "seven minutes of hell."
"We go from 13,000 miles an hour to zero in seven minutes," said NASA's Dr. John Grunsfeld.
It is the time the rover takes to travel through the atmosphere to the surface of the Red Planet. A series of intricate events must unfold perfectly, all choreographed by computers with no help from the ground.
Once safely on the surface of Mars, the $2.5 billion nuclear powered rover will begin its two-year mission.
"The answer that we are seeking with curiosity is to figure out if the conditions at any point in Mars history could have supported life," said project scientist Ashwin Vasavada.
Scientists will search for that answer with environmental sensors, chemistry instruments and radiation monitors. The technology is the most advanced scientific payload ever transported to the surface of Mars.
"It truly is a step forward both in technology and potential science return and science capability to unlock the mysteries of Mars in places that have never been accessible to human kind in the past," said Grunsfeld.
If all goes according to plans the Curiosity rover will land just after 1:30 Monday morning.
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