NASA’s Mars Curiosity remains on track to reach its destination on August 5, when the rover begins its complex descent to the red planet.
According to NASA exec Jim Montgomery, the successful landing will represent a moment of truth for the space agency, its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), as well as astronomers and enthusiasts around the world.
“We are landing in Gale crater, which is very interesting from the scientific perspective. We are landing in a very deep crater with a mountain in the center,” said Montgomery.
“What’s great about this is as you dig down though the surface you are digging backward in time. We are going to land back in time and slowly drive into the future looking at the history of Mars as we drive.”
Montgomery also described Curiosity as a roving science laboratory.
“It’s like we have our field geologist there with a really good laboratory. Past missions proved water existed on Mars in the past and that ice is on the surface now. This mission is focused on finding habitats that could have supported life,” he added.
The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is expected to build on the success of the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers during the past eight years.
The rovers were intended to complete a 90-day mission, but continued to operate far longer than expected. Indeed, Opportunity is still returning information from its continuing exploration.
It should be noted that NASA has historically described Mars as a challenging destination where only a third of the missions have landed successfully.