After seven months of space travel, the European Schiaparelli spacecraft is only a couple days away from making its final decent to the surface of the Red Planet — and the stakes are high.
The Schiaparelli lander — part of the European Space Agency's (ESA) ExoMars 2016 mission to Mars — was launched into space with the Trace Gas Orbiter on March 14. In preparation for Schiaparelli's decent to Mars on Wednesday (Oct. 19), the Trace Gas Orbiter released the lander module Sunday (Oct. 16), with both craft now flying free in their daring approach to the Red Planet.
"They are now on a high-speed collision course with Mars, which is fine for the lander — it will stay on this path to make its controlled landing," Michel Denis, flight director at mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, said in a statement from ESA. "However, to get the mothership (Trace Gas Orbiter) into orbit, we must make a small but vital adjustment on Oct. 17 to ensure it avoids the planet. And on Oct. 19 it must fire its engine at a precise time for 139 minutes to brake into orbit." [Photos: Europe's ExoMars Missions to Mars in Pictures]