This artist's concept features NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life. Curiosity launched toward the Red Planet on Nov. 26, 2011.
NASA's next Mars rover, known as Curiosity, landed at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 22, 2011, aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane.
NASA's Curiosity rover is shown here during final testing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It will be shipped to its Florida launch site in late June 2011.
At Space Launch Complex 41, the payload fairing containing NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft has been attached to a lifting device in preparation for a planned Nov. 25, 2011, launch.
This massive heat shield is covered in an ablative material that will help protect NASA's new Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity - a robot the size of a car - from the searing temperatures of atmospheric entry when it lands on Mars. Built by Lockheed Martin, the shield is 15 feet wide, the biggest ever bound for Mars.
This graphic portrays the sequence of key events in August 2012 from the time the NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft — with its rover Curiosity — enters the Martian atmosphere to a moment after it touches down on the surface.
Technicians work beneath NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission aeroshell (containing the compact car-sized rover Curiosity).
In the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Atlas 5 rocket's payload fairing containing NASA's Mars rover Curiosity stands securely atop the transporter that will carry it to Space Launch Complex 41 on Nov. 3, 2011.
An artist's concept illustrates what the Mars rover Curiosity will look like on the Red Planet.
Academy Award-winning director James Cameron (right) inspects engineering model of camera mast for NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover. Cameron is a member of the camera team for the Red Planet mission.
NASA's next-generation Mars rover, Curiosity, took its first baby steps on Earth today, making two slow drives forward and back on the floor of the clean room where it is being constructed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
NASA's Curiosity Cam allows the public to watch technicians assemble and test NASA's next Mars rover in a clean room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The bodies of the flight model (left) and engineering model (right) of Curiosity. The flight model will be the rover launched into space, with the engineering model serving as a back-up.
This image shows the Mars rover Curiosity being assembled in one of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's 'clean rooms.' The team members are all dressed in special head-to-toe white suits.
The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) will be much larger than NASA's two Mars Exploration Rovers that began exploring the red planet in early 2004. Image
Mars rover Curiosity, the centerpiece of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, is coming together for extensive testing prior to its late 2011 launch. This image taken June 29, 2010, shows the rover with the mobility system — wheels and suspension — in place after installation on June 28 and 29.
NASA's Viking landers carried four instruments designed to search for signs of Martian life: a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer, as well as experiments for gas exchange, labeled release and pyrolytic release. Credit: NASA
John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is manager of the Mars Exploration Rover project. MER involves the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which have been chugging around the Red Planet since 2004.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, right, and award-winning writer-director James Cameron, meet at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 19, 2010.
Testing of the Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity. Evaluations during March included use of a space-simulation chamber designed to put the rover through operational sequences in environmental conditions similar to what it will experience on the surface of Mars.
NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory plans to launch in 2009. The rover is to be powered by nuclear generator (not shown) and will have extensive mobility across the red planet. Image
Out of more than 30 sites considered as possible landing targets for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, by November 2008 four of the most intriguing places on Mars rose to the final round of the site-selection process.
At this site in Mars' southern hemisphere, an ancient river once flowed into a lake. The area abounds with phyllosilicates, clay-like minerals that preserve a record of long-term contact with water. Here on Earth, oil geologists have built up a store of knowledge about how to look for organic materials in river deltas. Mission scientists and Curiosity may be able to tap into that knowledge in operations at Eberswalde.
Gale Crater, which is near the Martian equator, offers access to a wide range of rock strata, including sulfates and phyllosilicates in a mountain three miles (5 kilometers) high. Curiosity could probably drive partway up this mountain, checking out layers deposited during wet periods with changing environmental conditions.
This artist's concept depicts a sky crane lowering NASA's Curiosity rover onto the Martian surface.
The Nili Fossae region of Mars is one of the largest exposures of clay minerals discovered. In this HiRISE false-color image, dark blue regions are volcanic minerals. Light-toned areas are clay-rich material and may contain water and organic materials--a possible place where life can be supported.
This apparent flood channel in the Martian southern hemisphere is one of the oldest valleys known on the Red Planet. Its layered terrain contains several different types of clays, giving Curiosity the chance to study changes in wet conditions over the eons. This is the only one of the four landing sites that possesses interesting geology for the rover to check out. At the other three, the study areas are outside the landing zone, requiring the rover to make more of a drive before starting its science work.
Pieces of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in May 2011. From left: the Curiosity rover (along rear wall; its tires are on a table to the rover's right), the entry-descent-landing stage, the cruise stage and the backshell.
A close-up of the Mars Science Laboratory mission's entry-descent-landing system (foreground) and cruise stage, in a clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in May 2011.
Technicians at Lockheed Martin in Denver finalize the installation of the MEDLI instrument package on the backside of the Mars Science Laboratory's heat shield.
The huge aeroshell for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission is readied at Lockheed Martin Space Systems near Denver.
The rover is to be powered by nuclear generator (not shown in this drawing) permitting the Mars machinery a long range ability to explore science targets.
Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) project manager Pete Theisinger, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
A National Academies study group recommends delaying an Astrobiology Field Laboratory until 2018. Doing so would allow more time to consider the output from prior Mars missions, including the Mars Science Laboratory now being readied for 2009 liftoff.
Technicians at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory work on the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity in May 2011. The rover is upside-down, and its six wheels are off (they rest on a table, at far right of the photo).
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), a mobile robot for investigating Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life. To be launched in 2009, MSL is now being eyed for sample caching duties on the red planet as part of a revived NASA Mars sample return initiative.
Scientists on the HiRISE team have discovered what mighe be a once-habitable ancient lake on Mars at Holden crater. This shows part of the outside rim of Holden crater.
The parachute for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory passed flight-qualification testing in March and April 2009 inside the world's largest wind tunnel, at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
In this still from a NASA video, the Mars rover Curiosity, encased in its payload fairing, is hoisted up to be placed atop its Atlas 5 rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Nov. 3, 2011.
This Mars Descent Imager (MARDI) camera will fly on the Curiosity rover of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission. The downward-looking camera will take about four frames per second at nearly 1,600 by 1,200 pixels per frame for about the final two minutes before Curiosity touches down on Mars in August 2012. Malin Space Science Systems, San Diego, Calif., supplied MARDI and two other camera instruments for the mission. A pocketknife provides scale for the image.
Technicians at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, prepare the heat shield for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, in this April 2011 photo.
The heat shield for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory is the largest ever built for a planetary mission.
A mockup of NASA's Curiosity Mars rover gets its wheels dirty in sand dunes near California's Death Valley in early May 2012.