We’ve had our sights on NASA’s Curiosity Rover (also known as the Mars Science Laboratory or MSL) for quite some time now. Well, it’s finally ready and in a few short weeks, this amazingly advanced one-ton (900 kg) explorer will find itself atop a massive Atlas V rocket for the eight-month, 354 million-mile (570 million-km) trip to our red neighbor – the culmination of over seven years of development and US$2.5 billion in funding.
Once the MSL lands (using parachutes and a unique “Sky Crane,” as depicted in the excellent NASA animation video at the top of the page), it will encounter gravity only 38 percent as strong as Earth’s, harsh temperatures ranging from -130°F to 32°F (-90C to 0C), an atmosphere of almost pure carbon dioxide and no planet-wide magnetic field. That can make navigation challenging, to say the least, especially with the added complication that command transmissions will take close to 14 minutes to travel from Earth.
Edited from NASA’s Curiosity Rover gears up for Mars.