NASA Mars rover eyes August landing

NASA's Mars rover, nicknamed Curiosity, is zeroing in on its August landing on the Red Planet and aims to touch down closer than expected to its mountain target, the US space agency said.

With a mission to use its roving toolkit to drill for signs that microbial life may have once existed on Mars, the rover is now set to land about four miles closer to the mountain than initially planned.

The car-sized rover, which NASA scientists have described as a 2.5-billion-dollar dream machine, launched from Florida in November 2011, and aims to land in Mars' Gale Crater at 0531 GMT on 6 August.

'We're trimming the distance we'll have to drive after landing by almost half,' said Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. 'That could get us to the mountain months earlier,' he said, adding possibly as many as four months earlier than planned.

However, the narrower landing ellipse - now four miles wide by 12 miles long instead of 12 miles wide and 16 miles long - also brings the vehicle closer to the potential danger of coming down on a slope of Mount Sharp instead of a flat surface in the Gale Crater.
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