Developed as a final stage landing method, the Sky Crane allowed the rover to land without using rocket engines too near the Martian surface, and avoid creating dust clouds that could damage its instrumentation.

Coupled to a rocket powered ‘descent stage’, in the final phase of the landing the rover detached from the protective capsule used to enter Mars’ atmosphere before the descent stage retrorockets fired for its computer-controlled descent.

Once 20m above the surface, the rover was lowered from the descent stage on a 21ft (6.4m) tether and gently placed on the surface before the descent stage detached and flew 650m northwest of the landing site and crashed.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captured an image later that day showing where Curiosity, and its various pieces of jettisoned entry, descent and landing phase equipment, touched down in the Martian Gale Crater.

"These Navcam images indicate that our powered descent stage did more than give us a great ride, it gave our science team an amazing freebie," said John Grotzinger, project scientist for the mission from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. "The thrust from the rockets actually dug a 0.5m trench in the surface. It appears we can see Martian bedrock on the bottom. Its depth below the surface is valuable data we can use going forward."