When you have just one chance to land Mars' biggest rover, you have to practice - a lot. So, how do you copy a high-speed descent on Mars? Strap special sensors to an F/A-18 jet at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center. Fly as high as 100 of the world's tallest roller coasters stacked on top of each other. As the plane turns and spins like the spacecraft, measure the temperature, pressure, and vibration.
These thrilling test rides help engineers prepare for similar flights next spring to test the landing radar. The radar will measure the spacecraft's speed and altitude as it makes a safe touchdown. Then, the F/A-18 will dive to the ground from 50,000 feet. This nosedive will mimic the spacecraft's entry, descent, and landing on Mars. Not for the faint-of-heart, these are critical tests for the heart-pounding real thing!