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Curiosity flight team sticks to traditions

For a group of people who claim that their job requires them to be the opposite of superstitious, there were a lot of traditions flying around Sunday among the engineers who were attempting to deposit the Curiosity rover on Mars.

For years, mission control has been equipped with tubs of peanuts; by now, engineers are so worried that someone will forget, and that the result would be catastrophic, that the room is typically overflowing with peanuts.

Mission manager Brian Portock revealed Sunday that one engineer has grown something akin to a hockey “playoff beard,” refusing to shave until the mission is complete.

Another carries around two small trinkets, which she has held on to during  past Mars missions.

Still another creates a new hairstyle for each mission.

The flight team voted on what the style should be for Curiosity and selected a theme of “stars and stripes.” So Bobak Ferdowsi, an engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge, showed up to work Sunday with a red, white and blue mohawk, with stars on the side.

With Curiosity still on a near-perfect course for a Sunday-night landing, scientists said this morning that they had passed up a final opportunity to correct the spacecraft’s trajectory. Curiosity was “very healthy,” said mission manager Brian Portock.

“In cellphone speak, we have a full set of bars,” Portock said. “The flight team is feeling really good about the spacecraft.”

The craft was winging its way toward Mars at more than 8,000 mph and expected to land at 10:31 p.m.

“Tonight’s it -- the Super Bowl of planetary exploration,” said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. “We score and we win--– or we don’t score and we don’t win.

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-- Scott Gold, Los Angeles Times

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