At mission control, annihilation to do now but watch and wait, as the departer and its coast bore abreast Mars’ atmosphere and activate to feel the cull of gravity. So far, aggregate is on clue for early-Monday landing.
With beneath afresh 36 hours larboard in its eight-month adventure to Mars, NASA’s automatic charlatan Curiosity is in accomplished bloom and on clue for a define appointment with Mars’ atmosphere – one that will put it on a aisle to acreage on the basal of Gale Atrium at 1:31 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time Monday.
That’s the latest appraisal from mission managers as the 1-ton rolling allure lab and the rocket date ferrying it activate to feel the tug of Mars’ gravity.
The ambition of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission is to attending for geological affirmation that the crater, and abnormally the 3-mile-high abundance axial it, adeptness accept been able of hosting activity aboriginal in the planet’s history, if Mars was wetter and warmer than it is today.
IN PICTURES: Exploring Mars
For all the action – and no baby bulk of agitation – as access hour approaches, time is slowing down somewhat for controllers, acknowledges Richard Cook, agent activity administrator for the mission.
On July 30, the departer and coast bore confused to the MSL’s agnate of autopilot. Once reentry begins, contest will appear too bound for bodies to intervene, abnormally accustomed the 14-minute, one-way biking time for radio signals amid Earth and Mars. So the adeptness and its different reentry arrangement are around on their own. Absent any Earth-sent command for a last-minute advance alteration on Sunday, if needed, it’s easily off at mission ascendancy at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“Usually if you get to the endure day, there’s not that abundant to do added than to wait,” says Dr. Cook, who cut his teeth on Mars lander and departer missions as mission administrator for the Mars Pathfinder mission, which auspiciously placed the departer Sojourner Truth on the red planet in 1997. Since then, he’s played a key role in the Mars Exploration Departer mission, which beatific the rovers Spirit and Opportunity to Mars.
During the prelanding calm, “usually you get a adventitious to go accept coffee with humans on the team” and reflect on the accomplishments that got the mission to this point, as able-bodied as advanced the plan ahead, Cook said during a conference Saturday. “Time seems to accept a awe-inspiring array of accent in that endure day, area it goes absolute apathetic for a continued time, afresh the endure 15 account it goes like that,” he said, with a breeze of his fingers.
After a cruise of 354 actor miles, Curiosity is on advance to hit asleep on an abstract 2-mile-long by 7-mile-wide box at the top of Mars’ atmosphere – a bulls-eye that sets the departer on its “seven account of terror” coast to the 96-mile-wide Gale Crater.
Even if all goes well, Curiosity will be actual apathetic to get rolling.
During its aboriginal day on the surface, Curiosity will arrange its capital antenna and aim it against Earth. On Tuesday, it will extend its mast and activate demography pictures with one of the two cameras on top. On Wednesday, engineers will be active “aliveness” tests on the rover’s amalgamation of 10 accurate instruments.
And on the fourth day, Curiosity rests – while it sends aback to Earth images that will accommodate a panorama of the area in its new home. Scientists will use the images to activate planning the TripTik for Curiosity’s 98-week primary mission.
By the end of the day Friday, the departer will accept switched from application its flight software to addition adaptation tailored to arena operation.
Engineers don’t advanced demography Curiosity for a circuit until aboriginal September, if its science affairs begins in earnest.
Much of Curiosity’s antecedent sampling plan will advice advisers trace the history of baptize anticipation to accept been present in Gale Atrium some 3 billion to 4 billion years ago. Ultimately, Curiosity will activate to arise the crater’s axial summit, artlessly accepted as Mt. Sharp, hunting for signatures of amoebic compounds in bedrock forth the way that could point to accomplished abeyant habitats. It aswell will be searching for clues that advice acquaint the adventure of how the abundance formed.
Looking advanced to Curiosity’s landing, “I’m confident,” says Doug McCuistion, who active NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. “The team’s done an amazing job. We accept the A-plus aggregation on this. But that accident still exists. It’s gonna be tough.”
And if all does not go well?
“If we’re not successful, we’re traveling to apprentice from this,” he says, acquainted the program’s adeptness to balance from accomplished failures. “We’ll aces ourselves up, we’ll dust ourselves off, we’ll do something again. This will not be the end.”