NASA is making final preparations for the launch of its newest Mars rover, "Curiosity," set to begin its journey November 25.
NASA's most advanced Mars rover to date is in its final stages of preparation at its Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.
Officially named "Mars Science Laboratory," the 9-foot-long, six-wheel-drive, robotic research vehicle will hitch a ride atop an Atlas V rocket ready and waiting for the high-tech buggy at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Twice the length of earlier Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity and weighing nearly one ton, Curiosity is equipped with a seven-foot long robotic arm designed to be used for up close study of near objects such as rocks and soil.
The state of the art rover also dons a seven-foot retractable mast equipped with cameras and a laser-firing instrument which has the ability to vaporize rock, enabling Curiosity to study selected targets at a greater distance.
Overall, Curiosity will carry 10 scientific instruments, each designed for different tasks as the rover navigates the red planet's terrain.
Scheduled to make its landing on the Martian surface in August 2012 (if things go as planned), Curiosity will first examine the Gale Crater, called by NASA scientists "potentially habitable."
NASA gave its new baby a substantial upgraded compared to past models Spirit and Opportunity. In addition to its larger size and the advanced capability of its mast and robotic arm, scientists believe they have solved the problem of unreliability found in the solar panels used in previous missions.
This time around, the Curiosity rover will be powered by plutonium, making its radioisotope power system able to roam the Martian surface day or night.
The new system will also eliminate the problem of dust collecting on the panels, choking the vital power needed to propel the rover and operate its instruments.
Built using funds budgeted to NASA in past years, the program will still need money to pay scientists to monitor and study data collected by Curiosity and sent back to earth.
The government agency must have been quite concerned as lawmakers debated the agency's budget for 2011.
Although in the end Congress came to a compromise and agreed on an $18.5 billion budget for the space agency, it received a 1.3 percent cut in funds from what was allotted the previous year.
For more information on the upcoming mission along with pictures and videos showing Curiosity's journey from conception to reality, visit NASA's Official Web Site.