NASA launches biggest-ever rover to Mars
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida - Agence France-Presse
AP photoThe U.S. space agency's Curiosity rover blasted off Saturday on a nearly nine-month journey to Mars where it will search for signs that life once existed on the Red Planet.
The rover is the biggest and most advanced ever built, and is part of NASA's $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft that lifted off at 10:02 am (1502 GMT) atop an Atlas V rocket.
"Liftoff of the Atlas V with Curiosity, seeking clues to the planetary puzzle about life on Mars," said NASA commentator George Diller as the white rocket soared skyward from the Florida space pad.
After landing in August 2012, scientists hope it will return valuable information about the past, present and future habitability of Mars to help the US space agency plan a human mission there, perhaps by the 2030s.
While the rover is not equipped to detect living organisms, it may find samples of organic carbon that indicate life once existed on Mars, or that perhaps it still does in microbial form.
Curiosity is powered by nuclear fuel and is about twice the size of NASA's twin solar-powered rovers Spirit and Opportunity that landed in 2004.
It carries a robotic arm, a drill, a set of 10 science instruments including two color video cameras, a laser beam for zapping interesting rocks and a tool kit for analyzing their contents.