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 project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “That could get us to the mountain months earlier.”
This view of Mount Sharp is derived from data gathered by two NASA spacecraft orbiting Mars and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter.
The two ellipses show the previous and new target areas. The first was 20 kilometers by 25 kilometers. Continuing analysis after the November 26, 2011, launch resulted in confidence in an even smaller target area, 20 kilometers by 7 kilometers.
Rock layers located in Mount Sharp are the prime location for research with the rover.
Curiosity is scheduled to land August 6 at approximately 5:31 a.m. GMT. Following checkout operations, Curiosity will begin a two-year study of whether the landing vicinity ever offered an environment favorable for microbial life.