Asteroid-Bound Probe Zooms Past Mars

NASA’s Dawn asteroid probe zoomed past the planet Mars late Tuesday to grab a speed boost aimed at flinging it on toward the largest space rocks in the solar system.
The ion-powered spacecraft used the gravitational pull of Mars to slingshot around the planet and hurtle outward toward its next stop, the asteroid Vesta. The maneuver was expected to boost Dawn’s speed by more than 5,800 mph (9,330 kph) and set the asteroid probe on track to reach Vesta in August 2011.
“Without the gravity assist, our mission would not have been affordable, even with the extraordinary capability of the ion propulsion system,” said Marc Rayman, chief engineer for Dawn’s mission at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.