With just over 24 hours till the "seven minutes of terror" -- when Mars rover Curiosity makes its unprecedented, hellbent-for-leather descent to the surface of Mars -- the NASA rover team sits and waits. And, perhaps, paces.
After a command sent a few days ago, “we literally could do nothing more,” says the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Ashwin Vasavada.
That was when the Curiosity team sent a directive zooming through space -- 35 million miles or so -- to Earth’s latest ambassador to Mars, telling it to put its plan into action.
“We sent a command to the spacecraft to start its onboard program to execute the final approach, entry, descent and landing,” Vasavada told the Los Angeles Times in an interview late Friday. “We literally could do nothing more, and the spacecraft will land itself.”
On Thursday, mission project manager Pete Theisinger told The Times that things were quiet -- eerily so. "I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop."
A dust storm was causing scientists some concern Thursday, and a dust storm on Mars is no small worry. In April, NASA photographed a massive dust devil that extended from the surface of the Red Planet 12 miles up into the atmosphere.
At the time, Vasavada, deputy project scientist with the Mars Science Laboratory at JPL, called the size of the Mars dust devil "unique."
As the sun beats down on the desert-like surface of Mars, he explained, convection begins. "Conditions allowed this single giant vortex to form and survive," he said., Los Angeles Times