There are now fewer than a hundred days until the Mars rover Curiosity tries to touch down on the surface of the Red Planet - and boffins at the Jet Propulsion Lab are polishing up their remote driving skills.
At the moment the mission has less than 191 million kilometres (119 million miles*) to go before its scheduled landing early in the morning of 6 August. The one-ton robot, which has been travelling at 21,000 kilometres per hour (13,000MPH) to reach the dusty world, will then start the search for evidence of a wet environment in Mars' early history.
"Every day is one day closer to the most challenging part of this mission," said Pete Theisinger, project manager at JPL.
"Landing an SUV-sized vehicle next to the side of a mountain 85 million miles from home is always stimulating. Our engineering and science teams continue their preparations for that big day and the surface operations to follow."
Mission planners and engineers have just finished a week of simulated rover driving where they sent some of the same commands they will send to the real Curiosity to a test buggy at JPL.
"Our test rover has a central computer identical to Curiosity's currently on its way to Mars," said Eric Aguilar, the mission's top test engineer. "We ran all our commands through it and watched to make sure it drove, took pictures and collected samples as expected by the mission planners. It was a great test and gave us a lot of confidence."
Curiosity will be dropped very gently on Mars near the base of a mountain inside Gale Crater if all goes to plan and will be roaming around taking pictures and collecting samples for two years. ®
* The rover will have travelled 354 million miles over eight and a half months before eventually landing on Mars at a time when the Red Planet is 85 million miles from Earth, thanks to the two planets' orbits around the Sun.