World Bulletin / News Desk
The Marsrover Curiosity, on a quest for signs the Red Planet once hosted the building blocks of life, streaked into the home stretch of its eight-month voyage on Sunday nearing a make-or-break landing attempt NASA calls its most challenging ever.
Curiosity, the first full-fledged mobile science laboratory ever sent to a distant world, was scheduled to touch down inside a vast, ancient impact crater on Sunday at 10:31 p.m. Pacific time (1:31 a.m. EDT on Monday/0531 GMT on Monday).
Mission control engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles acknowledge that delivering the one-ton, six-wheeled, nuclear-powered vehicle in one piece is a highly risky proposition, with zero margin for error.
But on the eve of Curiosity's rendezvous with Mars, JPL's team said the spacecraft and its systems were functioning flawlessly, and forecasts called for favorable Martian weather over the landing zone.
After a journey from Earth of more than 350 million miles (567 million km), engineers said they were hopeful the rover, the size of a small sports car, will land precisely as planned near the foot of a tall mountain rising from the floor of Gale Crater in Mars' southern hemisphere.
Flight controllers anticipate clear and calm conditions for touchdown, slated to occur in the Martian late afternoon. There may be some haze in the planet's pink skies from ice clouds, typical for this time of year, with temperatures at about 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
"We're on target to fly through the eye of the needle," Arthur Amador, the Mars Science Laboratory mission manager, told reporters at a briefing on Saturday, as Curiosity hurtled to within 2.8 million miles (4.5 million km) of its destination.
Facing deep cuts in its science budget and struggling to regain its footing after cancellation of the space shuttle program - NASA's centerpiece for 30 years - the agency has much at stake in the outcome of the $2.5 billion mission.
Mars is the chief component of NASA's long-term deep space exploration plans. Curiosity, the space agency's first astrobiology mission since the 1970s-era Viking probes, is designed primarily to search for evidence that the planet most similar to Earth may have once have harbored ingredients necessary for microbial life to evolve.
PACKED WITH GADGETS
The rover, formally called the Mars Science Lab, is equipped with an array of sophisticated chemistry and geology instruments capable of analyzing samples of soil, rocks and atmosphere on the spot and beaming results back to scientists on Earth.
Nearing the end of its journey encased in a capsule-like shell, Curiosity was essentially flying on automatic pilot, guided by a computer packed with pre-programmed instructions.
Mission control was due to activate the craft's backup computer on Sunday, ensuring that it will assume onboard command of the vessel should the primary computer fail during entry into the Martian atmosphere and its tricky descent to the surface.
Two hours before atmospheric entry, mission control will send its very last transmission to Curiosity, a "parameter update" giving the craft its exact position in space.
After that, controllers will have little to do but anxiously track Curiosity's progress as it flies into Mars' upper atmosphere at 13,000 miles (20,921 km) per hour, 17 times the speed of sound, and begins a descent and landing sequence NASA refers to as "the seven minutes of terror."
Curiosity's fate will then hinge on a complex series of maneuvers that include a giant parachute deployment and a never-before-used jet-powered "sky crane" that must descend to the right spot over the planet, lower the rover to the ground on nylon tethers, cut the cords and fly away.
"This is the most challenging landing we've ever attempted," said Doug McCuistion, NASA's Mars Exploration Program director.
If everything works according to plan, controllers at JPL will know within a minute or two that the Curiosity is safely on the ground, alerted by a terse radio transmission relayed to Earth from the Mars orbiter Odyssey flying overhead.
If no landing signal comes, it could take hours or days for scientists to learn if radio communications with the rover were merely disrupted or that it crashed or burned up during descent.
From 154 million miles (248 million kilometers) away, 1,400 scientists, engineers and guests are expected to tensely wait at JPL to learn Curiosity's fate. Another 5,000 people will be watching from the nearby California Institute of Technology, the academic home of JPL.
A NASA Television broadcast from mission control will take over the giant Toshiba screens in Times Square in New York City.
In a good-luck tradition dating back to the 1970s, engineers in the control room at JPL plan to break out cans of roasted peanuts about an hour before landing.
Depending on local weather conditions, the eclipse was visible across a swath of the United States
Google and Facebook have been competing in innovative ways to increase internet access globally and tap into previously untouched markets.
A 14-year-old Dutch girl who sent a terror threat to American Airlines as a Twitter “joke” has been arrested by police in Rotterdam
The legal action is the first to emerge from a humiliating episode for Microsoft, which the software company has never fully explained and has accounted for only as a "technical error."
The widespread bug surfaced late on Monday, when it was disclosed that a pernicious flaw in a widely used Web encryption program known as OpenSSL opened hundreds of thousands of websites to data theft.
For some, increased connectivity has allowed them to see social network and sharing websites like Youtube and Facebook for the first time.
The suspects exploited the fact that some users had the same pin number or password for both credit cards and the loyalty card to create fake cards and charge items earlier this year
The radar is part of a safety system that ensures a failed rocket will not threatened populated areas.
The World's latest solar energy technologies with innovative products produced in Turkey will be showcased at the fair.
Kaspersky Lab uncovered evidence that a few hacking groups believed to be involved in state-sponsored cyber espionage were running such scans shortly after news of the bug first surfaced
Facebook did not specify how many ads will now appear in the right-hand column, though a sample image on the blog showed a single ad in the right-hand column
StoreDot's device charged a dead Samsung S4 smartphone battery in 26 seconds during a demonstration of the product.
Weapons like the electromagnetic rail gun could help U.S. forces retain their edge and give them an asymmetric advantage over rivals, making it too expensive to use missiles to attack U.S. warships because of the cheap way to defeat them.
Google and Facebook generally topped lists of Americans' concerns about the ability to track physical locations and monitor spending habits and personal communications
Anonymous, a loosely associated international network of hackers, said earlier that it would wage an anti-Israel operation, dubbed #OpIsrael, on Monday.