NASA Prepares to Launch Curiosity

If all goes well, tomorrow morning at approximately 10:02 a.m. Eastern time (GMT-5), NASA will launch its newest rover named Curiosity from Florida's Cape Canaveral, headed on a nine-month trip to the planet Mars. The $2.3 billion mission will send a capsule into the Martian sky in August of 2012. After decelerating in the atmosphere, a series of entry events will quickly take place, ending with a rocket-powered sky crane lowering the rover gently to the surface. Curiosity is a beast of a rover, weighing one ton, measuring ten feet long by seven feet tall (at the top of the mast), and powered by a plutonium-238 fueled electrical generator. The rover carries ten instruments, including several high-resolution cameras, and a laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy instrument called ChemCam that can vaporize tiny amounts of minerals and analyze their components. If all goes according to plan, Curiosity is scheduled for a stay on Mars of about 668 Martian sols, or nearly two Earth years, starting in Gale crater. Researchers hope to use the tools on Curiosity to study whether the area in Gale crater has had environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life and for preserving clues about whether life existed. (Edit: The launch was successful, and Curiosity is due to land in August of 2012.)

Read more
Hints: View this page full screen. Skip to the next and previous photo by typing j/k or ←/→.

Most Recent

  • Stephanie Keith / Reuters

    Photos of the Week: 5/16-5/22

    This week we have photos of an 80-foot-high tire in Michigan, dozens of Siberian students smashed into a car, two volcanic eruptions, yet another nail house in China, synchronized swimmers in a pond at the Chelsea Flower Show, a view from the top of the 104-story One World Trade Center, cows on the beach along the Mediterranean, a solar halo above Mexico, and much more.

  • Chensiyuan / Wikimedia Commons

    The Spectacular Seda Monastery

    High in a treeless valley in China's remote Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture lies the largest Tibetan Buddhist school in the world.

  • Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

    An Oil Spill Fouls the California Coastline

    A pipeline burst yesterday, spilling an estimated 21,000 gallons (79,500 liters) of crude oil into the Pacific Ocean near Santa Barbara.

  • USGS / Robert Krimmel

    The Eruption of Mount St. Helens, 35 Years Ago

    On May 18, 1980, 35 years ago today, an earthquake struck below the north face of Mount St. Helens in Washington state, triggering the largest landslide in recorded history, and a major volcanic eruption that scattered ash across a dozen states.

Join the Discussion