June 24, 2011

NASA Mars Rover Arrives In Florida

NASA's next Mars rover, nicknamed Curiosity, departed March Air Force Base in California and arrived at Kennedy Space Center in Florida Wednesday night where it will undergo final launch testing, officials said on Thursday.

The $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory is nuclear-fueled and is the size of a small car, It has been designed to roam the martian surface and assess the planet's suitability for life.

Engineers will spend the next several months preparing the rover for its November launch. The mission was originally scheduled to launch in 2009, but problems during development increased costs by nearly $800 million and the launch had to be delayed.

Curiosity is about 4 times bigger than NASA's last Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and also has more scientific instruments. The previous rovers landed on Mars in 2004 for what was supposed to be three-month missions.

Spirit and Opportunity were developed to search for signs of water on the Red Planet. Seven years later and Opportunity is still operational, however Spirit got mired in soft soil in May 2009 and after several attempts to free the rover remotely, NASA threw in the towel.

Curiosity's bigger size and better science capabilities should give the rover a better grip on the surface of Mars. Its mission: To search for signs that the planet has, or has ever had, the right conditions for microbial life to arise.

Curiosity is designed to spend at least one Martian year on the planet -- which is the equivalent of nearly two Earth years.

"The design and building part of the mission is nearly behind us now," David Gruel, manager of Mars Science Lab's assembly, test and launch operations at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, told Reuters in a statement.

NASA's inspector general warned earlier this month that it was in danger of missing this year's launch as well, which can be anywhere from November 25 to December 18, when Earth and Mars are in favorable alignment for transport.

But NASA officials said it had resolved those issues by the June 8 report and should be capable of meeting the launch window.


Image Caption: Curiosity, the Mars Science Laboratory mission's rover, along with the mission's descent stage, arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on June 22, 2011, aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane. Image Credit: NASA


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