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Mars Mission Feels Gravity Grip of Red Planet

PASADENA, Calif. – NASA’s en route Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) has begun to feel the tug of gravity of the red planet.

The MSL’s Curiosity rover is set to touch down on Mars at 10:31 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5 PDT (1:31 a.m. Monday, Aug. 6 EDT).

That’s the official time a signal confirming safe landing could reach Earth, MSL officials said here today. But give it about an extra minute given possible atmospheric conditions that the spacecraft has to plow through.

The spacecraft enters the Martian atmosphere 78 miles above the planet. The rover will take roughly seven minutes to reach the ground. The spacecraft can steer through the turbulent atmosphere so it can land more accurately.

The big hurdle is landing. Under some possible scenarios, Curiosity could land safely, but temporary communication difficulties could delay for hours or even days any confirmation that the rover has survived landing.

Information about the mission and about ways to participate in challenges of the landing, including a new video game, is available at:

http://www.nasa.gov/mars

Also, go to:

http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/msl/

By Leonard David

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