[meteorite-list] NASA Mars Rover Team Aims for Landing Closer to Prime Science Site (MSL)

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2012 11:57:04 -0700 (PDT)
Message-ID: <201206111857.q5BIv4Yx020966_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>

June 11, 2012

Dwayne Brown
Headquarters, Washington
dwayne.c.brown at nasa.gov

Guy Webster
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
guy.webster at jpl.nasa.gov

RELEASE: 12-192


WASHINGTON -- NASA has narrowed the target for its most advanced Mars
rover, Curiosity, which will land on the Red Planet in August. The
car-sized rover will arrive closer to its ultimate destination for
science operations, but also closer to the foot of a mountain slope
that poses a landing hazard.

"We're trimming the distance we'll have to drive after landing by
almost half," said Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)
project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in
Pasadena, Calif. "That could get us to the mountain months earlier."

It was possible to adjust landing plans because of increased
confidence in precision landing technology aboard the MSL spacecraft,
which is carrying the rover. That spacecraft can aim closer without
hitting Mount Sharp at the center of Gale crater. Rock layers located
in the mountain are the prime location for research with the rover.

Curiosity is scheduled to land at approximately 10:31 p.m. PDT Aug. 5
(1:31 a.m. EDT, Aug. 6). Following checkout operations, Curiosity
will begin a 2-year study of whether the landing vicinity ever
offered an environment favorable for microbial life.

Theisinger and other mission leaders described the target adjustment
during a June 11 update to reporters Monday about preparations for
landing and for operating Curiosity on Mars.

The landing target ellipse had been an ellipse approximately 12 miles
wide and 16 miles long (20 kilometers by 25 kilometers). Continuing
analysis of the new landing system's capabilities has allowed mission
planners to shrink the area to approximately 4 miles wide and 12
miles long (7 kilometers by 20 kilometers), assuming winds and other
atmospheric conditions as predicted.

Even with the smaller ellipse, Curiosity will be able to touch down at
a safe distance from steep slopes at the edge of Mount Sharp.

"We have been preparing for years for a successful landing by
Curiosity, and all signs are good," said Dave Lavery, MSL program
executive. "However, landing on Mars always carries risks, so success
is not guaranteed. Once on the ground we'll proceed carefully. We
have plenty of time since Curiosity is not as life-limited as the
approximate 90-day missions like NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers and
the Phoenix lander."

Since the spacecraft was launched in November 2011, engineers have
continued testing and improving its landing software. MSL will use an
upgraded version of flight software installed on its computers during
the past two weeks. Additional upgrades for Mars surface operations
will be sent to the rover about a week after landing.

Other preparations include upgrades to the rover's software and
understanding effects of debris coming from the drill the rover will
use to collect samples from rocks on Mars. Experiments at JPL
indicate that Teflon from the drill could mix with the powdered
samples. Testing will continue past landing with copies of the drill.
The rover will deliver the samples to onboard instruments that can
identify mineral and chemical ingredients.

"The material from the drill could complicate, but will not prevent
analysis of carbon content in rocks by one of the rover's 10
instruments. There are workarounds," said John Grotzinger, MSL
project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in
Pasadena. "Organic carbon compounds in an environment are one
prerequisite for life. We know meteorites deliver non-biological
organic carbon to Mars, but not whether it persists near the surface.
We will be checking for that and for other chemical and mineral clues
about habitability."

Curiosity will be in good company as it nears landing. Two NASA Mars
orbiters along with a European Space Agency orbiter will be in
position to listen to radio transmissions as MSL descends through
Mars' atmosphere.

The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate
in Washington. Curiosity was designed, developed and assembled at

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For more information on the Mars Science Laboratory/Curiosity mission,

Received on Mon 11 Jun 2012 02:57:04 PM PDT

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