NASA said that its Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft and its Curiosity rover are in the final stages of preparing for entry, descent and landing on the Red Planet at 10:31 p.m. PDT August 5 (1:31 a.m. EDT August 6). NASA said Curiosity remains in good health with all systems operating as expected. The spacecraft was launched on its trip to Mars on November 26, 2011.
NASA stated that Curiosity's main assignment is to investigate whether its study area ever has offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life. To do that, it packs a science payload weighing 15 times as much as the science instruments on previous Mars rovers.
The landing target, an area about 12 miles by 4 miles (20 kilometers by 7 kilometers), sits in a safely flat area between less-safe slopes of the rim of Gale Crater and the crater's central peak, informally called Mount Sharp. The target was plotted to be within driving distance of layers on Mount Sharp, where minerals that formed in water have been seen from orbit, NASA said.
NASA added that Earth will be below the Mars horizon from Curiosity's perspective, so the new rover will not be in direct radio contact with Earth. Two newer orbiters also will be recording Curiosity's transmissions, but that data will not be available on Earth until hours later.
by RTT Staff Writer
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