By Mary O’KEEFE
“It is a fine Martian day, warm and sunny,” said Doug McCuistion, Mars Exploration Program director from NASA headquarters.
He was describing the day on Mars and the last few hours left before the Mars Science Laboratory is scheduled to land on Mars.
The MSL with rover Curiosity is one of the most ambitious space exploration programs Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA has begun. The rover is larger, weighing about ten times more than it’s predecessors Opportunity and Spirit. It is a science laboratory that includes many different abilities including taking high-resolution photos and will be able to drill into the surface of Mars and analyze what it finds.
But before it begins its rolling exploration, it first must land and that is why media from across the world have gathered at JPL as the landing window approaches.
The spacecraft has handled itself well requiring little trajectory changes throughout its flight, which began in November 2011.
As of this morning it had traveled about 351 million miles.
“Systems remain healthy,” said Brian Portock, MSL mission manager, JPL, at a Sunday morning press conference at JPL.
It was decided not to do the last possible course correction this morning. The spacecraft is in the correct position to enter the Martian atmosphere at the targeted point, Portock said.
The landing will be relayed by a concert of orbiters and online data information. Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnasance Orbiter (MRO) in addition to the European Mars Express will be sending back data on the MSL landing.
The best scenario would be that the Mars Odyssey orbiter would be in the exact spot, guided by Earth ground crews, to observe the entire landing sequence including the landing. At present, McCuistion says, that is the plan.
For Odyssey to follow the landing of MSL it will have to roll just at the correct time toward the spacecraft with the antenna pointing at the Earth. If successful Odyssey will provide real time information of the landing, if not it will be about two hours before Odyssey flies over again and will have an opportunity to view the rover already on the surface.
Odyssey and the other orbiters are not the only option for information on the landing but it would be the most dramatic. MSL on board instruments will be relaying to mission control as to whether Curiosity’s wheels are on the ground.
Mars seems to be cooperating. The sand storm that was a concern a few days ago seems to have dissipated and slowed.
“The atmosphere looks perfect. Great weather for landing,” said Adam Steltzner, MSL entry, descent and landing phase lead at JPL.
Continue for updates at cvweekly.com and follow the landing on www.nasa.gov