The rover Curiosity is scheduled to touch down in early August inside the Gale crater.
"The Curiosity landing is the hardest NASA mission ever attempted in the history of robotic planetary exploration," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
"While the challenge is great, the team's skill and determination give me high confidence in a successful landing."
Prior to the landing, Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft will decelerate significantly from a speed of about 13,200 mph to enable the rover to achieve a landing speed of about 1.7 mph. The entire process will take an estimated seven minutes. At this time, Curiosity is scheduled to arrive at Mars' surface at 1:31 a.m. EDT on August 6.
NASA said it will spend the first several weeks after the landing conducting "a series of checkouts and activities to characterize its performance on Mars while gradually ramping up scientific investigations." Curiosity's task is to figure out whether a formerly wet area inside the Gale crater promoted the creation of microbial life or not. "Curiosity takes us the next logical step in understanding the potential for life on Mars," said Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Program at NASA Headquarters.
The success of the landing is a critical milestone toward the goal of sending humans to Mars by 2030.