As a chronicler of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s early origins, it seems churlish to entirely ignore its contemporary work. Future historians will certainly have much to say about the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) better known as Curiousity – the latest Martian rover which is due to land on the 5th August.
In the early 20th century, the quest for controlled jet propulsion was all about ascending to extreme altitudes. In the early 21st century, however, the triumph of ascent – and even of interplanetary travel – is nothing compared to the technics of managed descent. Landing Curiousity is something to behold. If you can put up with the portentous music and movie trailer scripting, this JPL video has a useful animation.