Mars Rover 'Curiosity' Launches
Thousands converge to watch
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 26, 2011 9:09 AM CST
The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket rolls toward the launch pad on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Nov. 25, 2011. Atop the rocket is NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover.   (AP Photo/NASA)
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(Newser) – The world's biggest extraterrestrial explorer is on its way to Mars. NASA today launched the six-wheeled, one-armed robotic rover, nicknamed Curiosity. An unmanned rocket blasted off with the spacecraft from Cape Canaveral. The journey to Mars will take 8 1/2 months and cover 354 million miles. Thousands of NASA guests converged on Kennedy Space Center for the launch.

Curiosity weighs a ton and is the size of a car. It's a mobile, nuclear-powered laboratory holding 10 science instruments that will sample Martian soil and rocks, and analyze them right on the spot. There's a drill as well as a stone-zapping laser machine. Curiosity will spend two years looking for evidence that Mars may once have been—or still is—suitable for microbial life. The mission costs $2.5 billion. Click for more on the mission.