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

  • Amanda Perobelli / Reuters

    Photos of the Week: Glass Ceiling, Blue Grotto, Lava Glow

    A May Day rally in Istanbul, a SpaceX splashdown in Florida, an early cicada in Maryland, a diving competition in Tokyo, orienteering in Ukraine, and much more

  • Qi Lianmin / VCG via Getty

    Robots Are Everywhere

    Recent images of robotic technology from around the world

  • Fernando Vergara / AP

    Photos: Deadly Protests Across Colombia

    For several days now, people across the country have voiced their anger in large demonstrations.

  • Alexander Nemenov / AFP / Getty

    Photos of the Week: Desert Highway, Launch Symphony, Mermaid Show

    A life-sized Gundam statue in China, the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in India, the world’s longest pedestrian suspension bridge in Portugal, a Lego New York City, and much more