With the Mars Science Laboratory—a rover called Curiosity—safely installed in its spacecraft, the Mars Science Laboratory mission set out for the red planet on November 26, 2011, with a projected arrival at Mars on August 5, 2012 PDT. About the size of a small SUV, Curiosity is truly a sophisticated mobile laboratory with the most advanced instruments ever sent to Mars.
Curiosity's Job on Mars
The main science goal of the mission is to evaluate whether Mars has or has ever had an environment that could support bacteria or other microbial life. To try to find out, Curiosity will study rocks and soil to find records of the geologic and climate history of Mars. It will also look for carbon and other chemical building blocks of life.
With each new Mars mission, NASA has reused technologies and design elements that have worked well in the past. Curiosity has six-wheels, for example, as did the earlier rovers, and a rocker-bogie suspension system that has proven to provide excellent stability and obstacle-climbing ability. But each mission has brought innovations as well. Here's what's new for Curiosity: MORE »
Spirit and Opportunity, the twin Mars Exploration Rovers (MERs), landed on Mars in early 2004. Part of NASA's long-term Mars Exploration Program, the mission has succeeded well beyond the hopes of its creators. MORE »
Powered by a bank of solar cells on its upper surface, each MER has advanced communication capabilities that allow it to keep in touch with orbiting probes and directly with Earth. MORE »