A NASA Dryden Flight Research Center F/A-18 852 aircraft makes a 40-degree dive toward Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., during June 2011 flight tests of a Mars landing radar. A test model of the landing radar for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission is inside a pod under the aircraft's left wing.
A series of test flights on the F/A-18 simulated what the radar on the Mars Science Laboratory descent stage will see while the spacecraft is on a parachute descending through the Martian atmosphere. Earlier tests, with a helicopter carrying the test radar, simulated the lower-altitude portion of the spacecraft's descent to the surface of Mars.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory mission for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington. This mission will land Curiosity on Mars in August 2012. Researchers will use the tools on the rover to study whether the landing region has had environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life and favorable for preserving clues about whether life existed.