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NASA Preps Mars "Curiosity" Rover For The Launchpad

Sarah Parvini |
September 16, 2011 | 12:31 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons
Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons
PASADENA—NASA plans to send a new rover, Curiosity, on an expedition to Mars in hopes of finding evidence of the possibility of microbial life, NASA officials said at the Jet Propulsion Lab on Thursday.  

Curiosity, or the Mars Science Laboratory, is targeted for a Nov. 25-Dec. 11 launch period, after overcoming obstacles that conflicted with its original target launch date of 2009. The mission’s main purpose is to explore a landing site as a potential habitat for life and assess its potential for the preservation of biosignatures (substances that provide evidence of life), NASA said.

“We have been trying to build steadily towards asking questions along the lines of ‘Could life ever have existed on Mars?’ and ‘Could life exist elsewhere in the universe?’” said deputy project manager Richard Cook.

The rover will employ various forms of new technology, including a sky crane soft-landing system and new thrusters to slow the landing down to a few tenths of a meter per second, enabling the machine to land safely, all while filming the journey. Curiosity is roughly the size of a Mini Cooper, and nearly weighs a ton, Cook said. 

The Mars Science Laboratory has not suffered any severe cutbacks due to economic issues, nor has it been slowed down by a lack of interest in space exploration, the deputy project manager said. Reports show the mission and new technology have a price tag currently set at $2.5 billion — a bit steeper than a Mini Cooper.  

What is next for the Mars Science Laboratory if this mission goes as planned? “We basically want to have spacecraft go out, get rocks and bring them back to be analyzed,” Cook said.

The Curiosity rover is set to land on Mars’ Gale Crater Aug. 5, 2012 and will stay on the planet for two years. The Mars Science Laboratory is managed by Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

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