CURIOSITY’S SKYCRANE MANEUVER In this artist’s concept, Curiosity is in the final moments of its descent toward Mars, and is being lowered from the descent stage to the surface on three cables. NASA / JPL
Entry, descent, and landing for Curiosity will include a combination of technologies inherited from past NASA Mars missions, as well as new ones. Instead of the familiar airbag landing systems of Mars Exploration Rover and Pathfinder, Curiosity will use a guided entry and a sky crane touchdown system to land the hyper-capable, massive rover.
The sheer size of Curiosity (over 900 kilograms) would preclude it from taking advantage of an airbag-assisted landing. Instead, Curiosity will use the sky crane touchdown system, which will be capable of delivering a much larger rover onto the surface. It will place the rover on its wheels, ready to begin its mission after thorough post-landing checkouts. https://www.planetary.org/space-images/curiositys-skycrane-maneuver