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.

"Our first trajectory correction maneuver will be in about two weeks,"
Theisinger said. "We'll do instrument checkouts in the next several
weeks and continue with thorough preparations for the landing on Mars
and operations on the surface."

Curiosity's ambitious science goals are among the mission's many
differences from earlier Mars rovers. It will use a drill and scoop
at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of
rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into
analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover. Curiosity carries
10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the
science-instrument payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and
Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars,
such as a laser-firing instrument for checking rocks' elemental
composition from a distance, and an X-ray diffraction instrument for
definitive identification of minerals in powdered samples.

To haul and wield its science payload, Curiosity is twice as long and
five times as heavy as Spirit or Opportunity. Because of its one-ton
mass, Curiosity is too heavy to employ airbags to cushion its landing
as previous Mars rovers could. Part of the MSL spacecraft is a
rocket-powered descent stage that will lower the rover on tethers as
the rocket engines control the speed of descent.

The mission's landing site offers Curiosity access for driving to
layers of the mountain inside Gale Crater. Observations from orbit
have identified clay and sulfate minerals in the lower layers,
indicating a wet history.

Precision landing maneuvers as the spacecraft flies through the
Martian atmosphere before opening its parachute make Gale a safe
target for the first time. This innovation shrinks the target area to
less than one-fourth the size of earlier Mars landing targets.
Without it, rough terrain at the edges of Curiosity's target would
make the site unacceptably hazardous.

The innovations for landing a heavier spacecraft with greater
precision are steps in technology development for human Mars
missions. In addition, Curiosity carries an instrument for monitoring
the natural radiation environment on Mars, important information for
designing human Mars missions that protect astronauts' health.

The mission is managed by JPL for NASA's Science Mission Directorate
in Washington. The rover was designed, developed and assembled at
JPL. NASA's Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center in
Florida managed the launch. NASA's Space Network provided space
communication services for the launch vehicle. NASA's Deep Space
Network will provide spacecraft acquisition and mission

For more information about the mission, visit:


For more information about the Deep Space Network, visit:



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