It’s 4 Days to Mars – and NASA’s Curiosity Mars Science Lab (MSL) spacecraft is now flying under the control of the crafts autonomous entry, descent and landing timeline and picking up speed as she plunges ever faster to the Red Planet and her Rendezvous with Destiny.
“Timeline activated. Bleep-bop. I’m running entry, descent & landing flight software all on my own. Countdown to Mars: 5 days,” Curiosity tweeted Tuesday night.
See below an EDL explanatory infographic timeline outlining the critical sequence of events which must unfold perfectly for Curiosity to safely survive the “7 Minutes of Terror” set to begin on the evening of August 5/6.
And the excitement is building rapidly for NASA’s biggest, boldest mission ever to the Red Planet as the flight team continues to monitor Curiosity’s onboard systems and flight trajectory. Yesterday, the flight team successfully carried out a memory test on the software for the mechanical assembly that controls MSL’s descent motor, configured the spacecraft for its transition to entry, descent and landing approach mode, and they enabled the spacecraft’s hardware pyrotechnic devices.
Curiosity remains healthy and on course. If fine tuning for the targeted landing ellipse is needed, the next chance to fire on board thrusters to adjust the trajectory is Friday, Aug. 3.
The 4th of 6 possible Trajectory Correction Maneuver (TCM) firings was just accomplished on Sunday, July 29 – details here.
The car sized Curiosity rover is scheduled to touchdown on Mars at about 1:31 a.m. EDT (531 GMT) early on Aug. 6 (10:31 p.m. PDT on Aug. 5) inside Gale Crater and next to a 3 mile (5 km) mountain taller that the tallest in the US.
Gale Crater is 154 km (96 mi) in diameter and dominated by a layered mountain rising some 5 km (3 mi) above the crater floor which exhibits exposures of minerals that may have preserved evidence of past or present Martian life.
Curiosity is packed with 10 state-of-the-art science experiments that will search for organic molecules and clay minerals, potential markers for signs of Martian microbial life and habitable zones.
Watch NASA TV online for live coverage of the Curiosity landing on Aug 5/6:
mars.jpl.nasa.gov or www.nasa.gov
Dr. Ken Kremer is a speaker, research scientist, freelance science journalist (KSC area,FL) and photographer whose articles, space exploration images and Mars mosaics have appeared in magazines, books, websites and calendars including Astronomy Picture of the Day, NBC, FOX, BBC, SPACE.com, Spaceflight Now, Science and the covers of Aviation Week & Space Technology, Spaceflight and the Explorers Club magazines. Ken has presented at numerous educational institutions, civic & religious organizations, museums and astronomy clubs. Ken has reported first hand from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, NASA Wallops, NASA Michoud/Stennis/Langley and on over 80 launches including 8 shuttle launches. He lectures on both Human and Robotic spaceflight – www.kenkremer.com. Follow Ken on Facebook and Twitter