Experts at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, California, announce that they will conduct the first course correction maneuver for the Mars Science Laboratory mission on January 11.
The MSL rover Curiosity is currently still inside a clamshell-like protective fairing, which was attached to the upper stage of the Atlas V rocket that launched the probe. Intentionally, launch controllers set the spacecraft on an incorrect course to Mars.
This was done in order to eliminate the risk of the upper stage falling on the surface of Mars, and contaminating it with microbes. Now that the separation occurred, the MSL needs to be put on its proper course, and this will be done through “a choreographed sequence of firings of eight thruster engines during a period of about 175 minutes,” JPL experts say.