NPR's Joe Palca will be at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California to monitor the Mars mission landing Sunday night at 10:30 p.m. PDT. Palca talks with guest host Linda Wertheimer about the Mars landing and purpose of the mission.
NASA has sent rovers to explore Mars before. But three words explain what makes this latest mission to Mars so different: location, location, location.
The rover Curiosity is slated to land late Sunday in Gale Crater, near the base of a 3-mile-high mountain with layers like the Grand Canyon. Scientists think those rocks could harbor secrets about the history of water — and life — on the Red Planet.
These are tense times for scientists and engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. Late Sunday night Pacific Time, they'll learn if nearly a decade of hard work will result in a priceless scientific laboratory landing safely on Mars or if the rover known as Curiosity will turn into a useless pile of junk. Everything depends on what happens during the seven minutes of terror, the time it takes the probe to go from the top of the Martian atmosphere to the planet's surface.