NASA’s Curiosity rover survived a seven minute plunge through Mars’s atmosphere last Sunday – a huge cause for celebration for advanced composites! Among the many different advanced composite components, the Curiosity Rover was armored with an advanced carbon composite heat shield that helped it safely reach the planet surface.

The advanced composite heat shield protected the rover from the high temperatures generated during the 13,000 mph descent to the Martian surface. The heat shield is 14.8 feet in diameter, the largest ever built for an interplanetary mission. It was manufactured using graphite materials from GrafTech International, Parma, Ohio, and was constructed by Fiber Materials Inc., in Biddeford, Maine, and Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, Colo.

The Curiosity Rover immediately started sending pictures back to Earth after landing and even transmitted a low-quality video of its last few minutes of the descent to the surface. “The surface mission of Curiosity has now begun,” says NASA Mission Manager Mike Watkins. “We built this rover not just to be launched or not just to land on Mars, but to actually drive on Mars and execute a very complex and beautiful science mission.”