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Wolfe Air Aviation, of Pasadena, Calif., provided their Eurocopter AS350 AStar helicopter and crew for the tests. Due to an Earth-Mars planetary alignment, this launch period actually allows for a Mars arrival in the earlier portion of the landing dates under consideration.The helicopter's Gyron gimbaled mounting system, provided by Nettman Systems International, is normally used to carry aerial video camera equipment for the motion picture industry. "The key factor was a choice between different strategies for sending communications during the critical moments before and during touchdown," said Michael Watkins, mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.This artist's concept from an animation depicts Curiosity, the rover to be launched in 2011 by NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, as it is being lowered by the mission's rocket-powered descent stage during a critical moment of the "sky crane" landing in 2012. "The shorter trajectory is optimal for keeping both orbiters in view of Curiosity all the way to touchdown on the surface of Mars.

Landing on Mars is always difficult, with success uncertain.

Mars Science Lab mission components such as Curiosity, the descent stage, the cruise stage and the aeroshell are currently undergoing assembly and testing at JPL in Pasadena, Calif., in preparation for an autumn 2011 launch.

Curiosity is scheduled to reach Mars in the summer of 2012.

When Curiosity Cam is off air, you will see a slideshow of Mars and rover images.

› Send questions or comments NASA Dryden provided logistics and other support for a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory team on-site that tested the landing radar system for the next Mars rover mission, called the Mars Science Laboratory.