An Insider’s Biography of a Celebrity Mars Rover Smithsonian Magazine

The chief engineer for Curiosity offers a peek at the NASA rover’s tumultuous rise to stardom in a new tell-all book. Back in 2008, Curiosity—technically called the Mars Science Laboratory, or MSL—was being heavily derided for getting behind schedule and going over budget. The mission was originally pitched to NASA as a $1.6-billion spacecraft, and it was supposed to launch in 2009. But a variety of technical hurdles caused the launch schedule to slip to 2011, and costs ballooned to $2.5 billion. According to Rob Manning, the mission’s chief engineer, young Curiosity’s troubles can be traced back to its most celebrated feature: the sky crane landing system.