Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mars rover "Curiosity" arrives at KSC

NASA's Curiosity rover, the biggest and most advanced rover built to explore Mars, has arrived at Kennedy Space Center ahead of a planned launch late this year.

An Air Force C-17 transport plane on Wednesday delivered the rover and the descent stage that will help lower it to the Martian surface, completing a journey from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

A cruise stage and aeroshell that will protect the vehicle during its descent were already here at KSC.

"The design and building part of the mission is nearly behind us now," David Gruel, a JPL mission manager, said in a statement. "We're getting to final checkouts before sending the rover on its way to Mars."

 NASA is targeting a blastoff of the $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission between Nov. 25 and Dec. 18 atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The launch would put the car-size rover and its 10 instruments on track to land on Mars in August 2012, beginning at least a two year science mission intended to determine whether Mars ever had environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life.
NASA's inspector general earlier this month reported that NASA was in danger of missing the launch window or reducing the mission's goals because of the significant work still remaining to resolve technical challenges before launch.
Missing the upcoming window would mean a delay of another 26 months due to planetary alignments, and an increase in mission costs of at least $570 million, the report said. The mission is already two years behind after missing its original window in 2009 due to technical issues. 
 NASA officials said they are confident they'll be ready to launch Curiosity later this year without scaling back its mission, even if some software development is completed after the launch.

IMAGE: This photograph of the NASA Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, was taken during mobility testing on June 3, 2011. The location is inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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