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

  • Oli Scarff / AFP / Getty

    Photos of the Week: 7/15–7/21

    Highland games in Scotland, a diving jaguar in France, wildfires in California and western Canada, a wax Donald Trump, and much more.

  • Adam Pretty / Getty

    Scenes From the 2017 World Aquatics Championships

    Hundreds of athletes from 186 nations are gathered in Budapest, Hungary to compete in 75 events across six disciplines in the 17th FINA World Championships.

  • Jorge Silva / Reuters

    A Walk in the Woods: A Photo Appreciation of Trees

    A collection of images of unusual, intriguing, and beautiful trees and forests around the world.

  • Stevo Vasiljevic / Reuters

    Wildfires Across Southern Europe

    Recent high temperatures and dry, windy conditions in Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, France, and Portugal have resulted in thousands of small wildfires and a few large large blazes.

Join the Discussion