Curiosity's use of retro-rockets and parachutes for its descent to the Martian surface reminded me of another application of similar technology. It starts about the 39:00 mark here:
The Soviet armed forces decided in the 1960s to equip their airborne forces with a new armored fighting vehicle, the BMD-1. Originally it was airdropped without its crew, but in training and exercises it often proved difficult for the crew to find the vehicle.
Instead, the Soviets developed the PRSM-915 system, with a retro-rocket package at the top of the cables that link the vehicle pallet to the chutes. Four ground-contact rods extending below the pallet automatically triggered the rockets.
I was told once that the system was unveiled at one of the occasional propaganda-movie screenings held by London's Soviet military attache for his western counterparts -- and the audience was shocked to see the crew exit the landed vehicle, free it from the pallet and drive away.
One of the audience members was visibly shocked and said something to the effect of "Good grief, you're going to kill people doing that". The response was the amazingly blank look that you get from a Russian when he understands the words you have used but has not the slightest idea what you're talking about.
My colleague Frank Morring reminds me that the Viking Mars lander used both parachutes and rockets, so the space engineers presumably came up with the idea on their own. Meanwhile, the Russians are still airdropping vehicles with crews inside, but with honking big parachutes and airbags: