$2.5B NASA rover takes off to look for life on Mars

NASA launched Curiosity on Saturday. The rover will search for evidence of life on the Red Planet using cameras, a robotic arm, a drill, and a laser to test rocks on Mars.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

NASA's $2.5 billion rover Curiosity launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. on Saturday. For the next eight and a half months, the Mars Science Laboratory's nuclear-powered rover will be traveling to Mars.

When the rover arrives, it will sample Martian soil and rock to look signs of microbial life on Mars.

The SUV-sized rover will look for methane and determine if a gas is biological or geological, according to NASA.

The mission will aim to:

  • See if there's biological material by looking for organic carbon compounds
  • Check out the geology of the rover's field site
  • Look into the role of water to see if there was any evidence of past habitability
  • Measure surface radiation

It's worth wishing Curiosity luck since it will spend most of 2012 in deep space before the rover gets to Mars.

The landing next August might be rough. Once it hits the surface, it will travel around the Gale Crater (pictured above), which is an area that might have signs of life.

"It requires a fancy power supply in order to do the job," said MSL's Pam Conrad said in a statement. "This enables us to make measurements all day, every day, at night, in the winter." It is powered by a plutonium-powered battery that is expected to last for at least two (Earth) years.

NASA's Colleen Hartman told the New York Times:

“Mars really is the Bermuda Triangle of the solar system. It’s the death planet, and the United States of America is the only nation in the world that has ever landed and driven robotic explorers on the surface of Mars, and now we’re set to do it again.”

Image Credit: NASA/Darrell L. McCall and NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS and NASA/JPL-Caltech

via The New York Times

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