The NASA Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover -- commonly called Curiosity -- is less than 4.5 million kilometers (2.8 million miles) away from its target: the Gale crater on the Red Planet.
Since November 2011, the mighty rover has traveled about 350 million miles on its journey from Earth to Mars.
In preparation for Monday's touchdown, the MSL mission manager, Arther Amador, made the following statement on Saturday: "The spacecraft and ground systems are all healthy and performing as expected. The spacecraft is now in the EDL (entry, descent and landing) approach configuration, in our final approach orientation, pointing our medium gain antenna within a degree of the Earth. We've got a strong telecom signal, receiving data at 2,000 bits per second."
Amador added, "The power subsystem is healthy, our rover batteries are charged to 100 percent. The thermal and propulsion systems are nominal with stable temperatures and pressures and the DSN (Deep Space Network) continues to perform well, tracking the spacecraft continuously and conducting two differential ranging passes per day."
Amador added, "We're now right on target to fly through the eye of a needle, that is, our target at the top of the Mars atmosphere. The target is a box that's 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) by 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) in dimension. And we're flying right through it."
The 8/4/2012 CBS Space News article Curiosity on track for high-stakes descent to Mars stated, "A high-precision atmospheric entry is just the first step in a complex, high-speed series of events designed to get the nuclear-powered Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity safely to its landing ellipse on the floor of Gale Crater, within easy roving distance of a 3-mile-high mound of layered rock that represents a record of the red planet's enigmatic history."
And, "Equipped with a robot arm, a drill, sample scoop, state-of-the-art instruments and a suite of cameras, Curiosity is the most sophisticated robotic lander ever sent to another planet. Over the course of a planned two-year mission, the rover will search for carbon compounds, one of the key building blocks of life as it is known on Earth, and assess whether habitable environments ever existed, or still exist, on the red planet."
"After slowing to around 1,000 mph, a huge supersonic parachute will deploy, the heat shield will be jettisoned and a sophisticated radar altimeter will begin sounding the surface. After slowing to less than 200 mph, the parachute will be jettisoned and Curiosity, bolted to the belly of a rocket-powered descent stage, will fall free for the final drop to the surface."