NASA has less than three weeks before the space agency tries to land the Curiosity rover on Mars, but there's still time for problems.
Just as scientists attempt to pinpoint a landing on alien soil from millions and millions of miles away, a wrench has been thrown in the works.
This was the plan: Have the Odyssey spacecraft, now making its way around the Red Planet, sync up with sister spacecraft the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The craft would align above the landing site, just as the rover was making its tricky landing in Mars' Gale Crater.
But it looks as if technical problems may have put the kibosh on that great plan.
If it had worked, Odyssey would have helped relay important information on the descent and landing of Curiosity -- and even to capture an image of the rover, hooked to its supersonic parachute, barreling toward the topsoil.
But Ashwin Vasavada, deputy project director of the Mars Science Laboratory, said in an interview Monday with the Los Angeles Times that a few weeks ago the Odyssey developed a problem with an instrument used to orient the satellite.
"This interrupted the plan to sync up with Curiosity's entry," Vasavada said.
NASA made one attempt to re-sync Odyssey, which failed, he said; the agency is now considering whether to give it another try.
But, Vasavada stressed, this new hiccup won't affect the safety of the rover landing.
"It just affects how soon the team knows that Curiosity has touched down successfully," he said.
-- Amy Hubbard, Los Angeles Times