Monday, November 28, 2011

NASA launches $2.5 billion rover to Red Planet

NASA has launched its next Mars rover, kicking off a long-awaited mission to investigate whether the Red Planet could ever have hosted microbial life.

The car-size Curiosity rover blasted off atop its Atlas 5 rocket at 10:02 a.m. ET Saturday, streaking into a cloudy sky above Cape Canaveral Air Force Station here. The huge robot’s next stop is Mars, though the 354-million-mile (570-million-kilometer) journey will take eight and a half months.

Joy Crisp a deputy project scientist for the rover at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., called the liftoff “spectacular.”

“This feels great,” she said as she watched the rocket lift off from Cape Canaveral.

Pamela Conrad, deputy principal investigator for the mission at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said, “Every milestone feels like such a relief. It’s a beautiful day. The sun’s out, and all these people came out to watch.”

The work Curiosity does when it finally arrives should revolutionize our understanding of the Red Planet and pave the way for future efforts to hunt for potential Martian life, researchers said.

“It is absolutely a feat of engineering, and it will bring science like nobody’s ever expected,” Doug McCuistion, head of NASA’s Mars exploration program, said of Curiosity. “I can’t even imagine the discoveries that we’re going to come up with.”

Full article: http://www.msnbc.msn … nch-huge-mars-rover/

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