NASA has narrowed the target for its most advanced Mars rover, Curiosity, which will land on the Red Planet in August.
The car-sized Mars 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. It was possible to adjust landing plans because of increased confidence in precision landing technology aboard the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft, which is carrying the Mars rover. That Mars rover 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 August 5 (1:31 a.m. EDT, August 6). Following checkout operations, Curiosity will begin a two-year study of whether the landing vicinity ever offered an environment favorable for microbial life. Mission leaders described the target adjustment during an update to reporters on Monday, June 11, about preparations for landing Mars rover and for operating Curiosity on Mars. The landing target ellipse had been 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 are 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.