The Mars rover that was supposed to have been launched on Friday, November 25, 2011, has taken flight today.
The launch had been rescheduled for the replacement of a suspect battery that is in the flight termination system. This was enough time for engineers to work on the rocket. This is a protective measure in case the Atlas 5 rocket changes direction after liftoff. The battery will destroy the rocket in case this happens.
NASA officials said there was a smooth launch today at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla at the Space Launch Complex-41.
An unmanned Atlas 5 rocket was used to send the rover towards Mars during the launch. The rover is also referred to as the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity.
The Mars rover is about the size of a car. It has about 10 instruments in it. It also has a laser that will be used to shoot on rocks to make them release gases. The gases will then be studied and the beam observations will be sent to Earth for analysis. The rover is 3m wide. There is a 7 feet tall camera that will capture images and send them to earth. Each is 0.5 meters wide. The rover has a 7 feet long robotic arm that will enable it get hold of materials on Mars.
The aim of sending this rover to Mars is to find out if Mars has ever been inhabited before or if it can sustain microbial life in the future. NASA had until December 18th to launch the rover towards Mars.
This mission to Mars is expected to last about 2 years. This is the biggest rover mission to Mars yet and is expected to get ample information on Mars in that span of time.
Instead of solar arrays, the Mars rover uses nuclear power to feed its systems. The rover will land on Martian ground using a sky crane that is rocket-powered on the 6th of August next year.
For more information on Curiousity, go to the Mars Program at Nasa