The Atlantic Ocean provides a backdrop as the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket clears the tower at Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Sealed inside the rocket's protective payload fairing is NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft, beginning a 9-month interplanetary cruise to Mars. Liftoff was at 10:02 a.m. EST Nov. 26. MSL's components include a car-sized rover, Curiosity, which has 10 science instruments designed to search for signs of life, including methane, and help determine if the gas is from a biological or geological source.
NASA Launches Most Capable and Robust Rover to Explore Mars
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA began a historic voyage to Mars with the Nov. 26 launch of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which carries a car-sized rover named Curiosity. Liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard an Atlas V rocket occurred at 10:02 a.m. EST.
"We are very excited about sending the world's most advanced scientific laboratory to Mars," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "MSL will tell us critical things we need to know about Mars, and while it advances science, we'll be working on the capabilities for a human mission to the Red Planet and to other destinations where we've never been."
The mission will pioneer precision landing technology and a sky-crane touchdown to place Curiosity near the foot of a mountain inside Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012. During a nearly two-year prime mission after landing, the rover will investigate whether the region has ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life.
"The launch vehicle has given us a great injection into our trajectory, and we're on our way to Mars," said MSL Project Manager Peter Theisinger of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "The spacecraft is in communication, thermally stable and power positive."
The Atlas V initially lofted the spacecraft into Earth orbit and then, with a second burst from the vehicle's upper stage, pushed it out of Earth orbit into a 352-million-mile (567-million-kilometer) journey to Mars....