It’s so far so good for Curiosity, the car-sized rover that at 10:24 p.m. PDT on Sunday is expected to slam into the atmosphere of Mars en route to landing at the bottom of Gale Crater. Mission scientists are monitoring a dust storm that’s roiling in the southern hemisphere, but it is unlikely to linger around long enough to affect the spacecraft’s descent. “It’s very, very quiet in my office, which is good,” says Peter Theisinger, project manager for the mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
At a media briefing on Thursday, mission engineers at the JPL said that after the latest corrective manoeuvre, the spacecraft hauling the rover is offset by just under a kilometre from its intended entry point into the atmosphere. That’s well within the tens of kilometres of offset that can be cleaned up during the guided entry phase of its descent, the first stage of the ‘7 minutes of terror‘ for the spacecraft, says Adam Steltzner, who is leading the entry, descent and landing phase. He says that the team may decide not to perform a final corrective manoeuvre on Friday. Steltzner is pictured at right describing the final stage of the descent, when the sky crane releases the rover from bridle cords. “I promise you it’s the least crazy of the methods that we could use,” he says. “We’ve become quite fond of it.”