"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, Calif. "That could get us to the mountain months earlier."
The landing target area had been about 12 miles wide and 16 miles long, but upgraded flight software uploaded to the unmanned Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft carrying the Curiosity has allowed mission planners to shrink the area to about 4 miles wide and 12 miles long, NASA reported Monday.
Once on Mars, Curiosity will begin a two-year study of whether the landing vicinity near Mount Sharp in the center of Gale crater ever offered an environment favorable for microbial life.
"We have been preparing for years for a successful landing by Curiosity, and all signs are good," said Dave Lavery, Mars Science Laboratory program executive at NASA. "However, landing on Mars always carries risks, so success is not guaranteed."
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