Mars mission completes important maneuver

Jan. 12, 2012 at 7:45 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., Jan. 12 (UPI) -- NASA says its Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft has successfully refined its flight path with the biggest maneuver planned for its journey to Mars.

"We've completed a big step toward our encounter with Mars," Brian Portock of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said. "The telemetry from the spacecraft and the Doppler data show that the maneuver was completed as planned."

Engineers had planned Wednesday's 3-hour series of thruster-engine firings to accomplish two aims -- to put the spacecraft's trajectory about 25,000 miles closer to encountering Mars and to advance the time of the encounter by about 14 hours, compared with the original trajectory following the mission's Nov. 26, 2011, launch.

"The timing of the encounter is important for arriving at Mars just when the planet's rotation puts Gale Crater in the right place," JPL's Tomas Martin-Mur, chief navigator for the mission, said.

Gale Crater is the intended destination of the mission's car-sized Curiosity rover, which will search for environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life and preserving clues about whether life existed, mission managers said.

As of Thursday the spacecraft had traveled 81.2 million miles on its 352-million-mile trip to Mars.

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