NASA launches super-size Mars rover to red planet 26 11 2011
CANAVERAL, Fla. — An unmanned Atlas 5 rocket carrying a $2.5bn NASA Mars probe has lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The Mars Science Laboratory, a nuclear-powered rover as big as a compact car and nicknamed Curiosity, is scheduled to touch down on the 'Red Planet' on August 6, 2012, and will search for signs of whether it is or ever was suitable for life.
It is powered by a nuclear-driven electrical system and is equipped with 10 of the most intricate scientific instruments ever sent into space.
Curiosity, has 17 cameras and 10 science instruments, including chemistry labs, to identify elements in soil and rock samples to be dug up by the probe's drill-tipped robotic arm.
The base of the crater's mountain has clays, evidence of a prolonged wet environment, said planetary scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology and the mission's lead scientist.
Water is considered to be a key element for life, but not the only one. Previous Mars probes, including the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, searched for signs of past surface water.
With Curiosity, which is twice as long and three times heavier than its predecessors, NASA shifts its focus to look for other ingredients for life, including possibly organic carbon, the building block for life on Earth.
"It's a long shot, but we're going to try," Grotzinger said before launch.
Curiosity is powered by heat from the radioactive decay of plutonium. It is designed to last one Martian year, or 687 Earth days