NASA's flagship Mars rover was encased in a protective aerodynamic shell this week in preparation for its move to the launch pad next week.
The Mars Science Laboratory, nicknamed Curiosity, is targeted to blast off at 10:25 a.m. Nov. 25 -- the day after Thanksgiving -- from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop an Atlas V rocket.
The compact car-sized rover, the biggest yet bound for the Red Planet, is scheduled to be hoisted on a transporter Tuesday and rolled from Kennedy Space Center's Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility to Launch Complex 41 overnight Wednesday.
Curiosity's 10 science instruments will search for evidence about whether Mars has had environments favorable for microbial life, including chemical ingredients for life.
The mission's launch window extends to Dec. 18, after which the right planetary alignment wouldn't come around again for two years. If launched successfully, the rover would be expected to land on Mars next August to begin two years of science research.
The total cost to develop and operate the mission is estimated at $2.5 billion.
IMAGES: In the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at Kennedy Space Center on Oct. 25, preparations were under way to enclose NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) in an Atlas V rocket payload fairing. The blocks on the interior of the fairing are components of the fairing acoustic protection (FAP) system, designed to protect the payload by dampening the sound created by the rocket during liftoff. The fairing will protect the spacecraft from the impact of aerodynamic pressure and heating during ascent. Credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann