Mars is tugging on NASA Rover Curiosity

Caption from NASA: "This artist's scoreboard displays a fictional game between Mars and Earth, with Mars in the lead. It refers to the success rate of sending missions to Mars, both as orbiters and landers. Of the previous 39 missions targeted for Mars from around the world, 15 have been successes and 24 failures. For baseball fans, that's a batting average of .385."

NASA acknowledges the fact that most missions to Mars fail. The rocket goes off course or crashes, or the device lands broken, or works for a while then stops.

According to the latest press release, which has some interesting photos including the one shown here,

The gravitational tug of Mars is now pulling NASA's car-size geochemistry laboratory, Curiosity, in for a suspenseful landing in less than 40 hours.

"After flying more than eight months and 350 million miles since launch, the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft is now right on target to fly through the eye of the needle that is our target at the top of the Mars atmosphere," said Mission Manager Arthur Amador of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The spacecraft is healthy and on course for delivering the mission's Curiosity rover close to a Martian mountain at 10:31 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5 PDT (1:31 a.m. Monday, Aug. 6 EDT). That's the time a signal confirming safe landing could reach Earth, give or take about a minute for the spacecraft's adjustments to sense changeable atmospheric conditions.

Follow Curiosity on Twitter here.

Here's the latest video on the mission:


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Several days? And I thought there were just 7 mins. of terror. Have to say that I am glad I'm not a member of the team. I'm not sure I could stand the stress.

“After flying more than eight months and 350 million miles since launch..."
That is an average of 57,000 mph

"Curiosity was approaching Mars at about 8,000 mph (about 3,600 meters per second) Saturday morning."
So it has decelerated over the course of the trip, I guess?

Remember, both Earth and Mars are moving (in a circular orbit, with a circular transfer orbit). Any speed needs to be figured given relative to one of those planets (or the sun). This isn't a train leaving New York heading for Chicago in terms of math problems.

Let me expand on that a bit.

Mars is in a "higher" orbit around the sun than Earth's orbit, which means it's a "slower" orbit (takes longer to go around the sun), but is moving faster than Earth in it's orbit. That means anything transferring from Earth's orbit around the sun needs to add velocity to catch up to the orbit of Mars around the sun. At that point it will be in a slower orbit around the sun, moving faster than it was when in the same orbit as Earth.

Through all this, it will have an approach speed towards Mars (since that's the point, of course).

@ Ken: Mars is in a higher orbit than Earth is, thus it's moving SLOWER. But the elliptical orbit which Curiosity is on was faster when near earth and is now SLOWER than Mars. Mars is catching up and also attracting with its gravity. The entry into Mars' atmosphere at ~ 13,000 mph will need to dissipate a lot of energy (= heat) to equalize their speeds.

OK, why does curiosity not just enter into a nice little round orbit around mars, like Apollo did at the moon, and take a breather for a while?