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NASA sets date for Curiosity mission to Mars

RIA Novosti


MOSCOW, May 21 (RIA Novosti) - NASA has set the date for its next Mars mission, choosing a schedule that will allow for better monitoring of the spacecraft's descent to the surface of the Red Planet, the U.S. space agency said on its website.

The Mars Science Laboratory, known as Curiosity, chose an Earth-to-Mars trajectory scheduling launch between November 25 and December 18, 2011, while the landing will take place between August 6 and August 20, 2012

"The key factor was a choice between different strategies for sending communications during the critical moments before and during touchdown," said Michael Watkins, mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"The shorter trajectory is optimal for keeping both orbiters in view of Curiosity all the way to touchdown on the surface of Mars. The longer trajectory allows direct communication to Earth all the way to touchdown," he continued.

Data from the lander will be relayed to Earth by the Mars Odyssey or Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft, which have been orbiting the planet since 2001 and 2006, respectively. Several Mars missions have failed in their final stages, and since the loss of the Mars Polar Lander in 1999 NASA has tried to maintain communications with spacecraft when they reach the planet. Odyssey provided such a relay two years ago for the Phoenix Mars Lander.

The Curiosity rover will investigate whether conditions on Mars had favored development of microbial life and its preservation in the rock record. The mission on Mars will last for a full Martian year, which is equivalent to almost two Earth years.

In a meantime, Russia has announced the names of the six main participants plus one reserve who would take part in an experiment in the Mars-500 module, which will simulate all aspects of a journey to the Red Planet, with a 250-day outward trip, a 30-day stay on its surface, and a 240-day return flight.

During nearly two years of isolation, the crew members will experience many of the conditions likely to be encountered by astronauts on a real space flight, except for radiation and weightlessness.

The Mars-500 project started in the Moscow Institute of Medical and Biological Problems and included 11 candidates: seven candidates from Russia and one each from China, France, Italy and Belgium.

The experiment is scheduled to begin on June 3 this year and the participants will be paid 3 million rubles ($100,000).

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