NASA began a historic voyage to Mars with yesterday’s launch of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which carries a car-sized Mars rover named Curiosity. A signal from NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft was received by officials on the ground shortly after spacecraft separation. The spacecraft is flying free and headed for Mars after separation from the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket that started it on its journey to the Red Planet. Liftoff was on time at 10:02 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
“Our spacecraft is in excellent health and it’s on its way to Mars,” said Pete Theisinger, Mars Science Laboratory Project Manager from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Theisinger thanked the launch team, United Launch Alliance, NASA’s Launch Services Program and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for their help getting MSL into space.
“We are ready to go for landing on the surface of Mars, and we couldn’t be happier,” said John Grotzinger, Mars Science Laboratory Project Scientist from the California Institute of Technology. “I think this mission will be a great one. It is an important next step in NASA’s overall goal to address the issue of life in the universe.”
Grotzinger added, “It is important to distinguish that as an intermediate mission between (Mars Exploration Rovers), which was the search for water, and future missions, which may undertake life detection, our mission is about looking for ancient habitable environments.”
“Science fiction is now science fact,” said Doug McCuisition, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters. “We’re flying to Mars. We’ll get it on the ground… and see what we find.”
The mission will pioneer precision landing technology and a sky-crane touchdown to place Curiosity near the foot of a mountain inside Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012. During a nearly two-year prime mission after landing, the rover will investigate whether the region has ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life.
You can view the historic launch video here.
(slideshow launch image: Engineers have received data from NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory showing that all systems are operating normally. The approximately eight-month journey to Mars is underway. NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory has separated from the rocket that boosted it toward Mars and has sent a signal to Earth. NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory and its rocket are coasting in orbit around Earth before heading to Mars.
Click Here for additional information about the mission.
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