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NASA Mars Rover Curiosity at JPL, Side View

NASA Mars Rover Curiosity at JPL, Side View

The rover for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, named Curiosity, is about 3 meters (10 feet) long, not counting the additional length that the rover's arm can be extended forward. The front of the rover is on the left in this side view. The arm is partially raised but not extended. Rising from the rover deck just behind the front wheels is the remote sensing mast.

This image was taken April 4, 2011, inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. Aside from the setting and its placement on ground support equipment, the rover appears much as it will after landing on Mars in August 2012. JPL is preparing Curiosity and the Mars Science Laboratory's cruise stage, descent stage and back shell for shipment to NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Launch is scheduled for the period from Nov. 25 to Dec. 18, 2011.

The mission will use 10 science instruments on the rover to investigate whether conditions in one of the most intriguing areas of Mars have been favorable for life and favorable for preserving evidence about whether life has existed there. A percussive drill and sample-handling system on the arm will prepare samples of fine powder taken from interiors of Martian rocks and deliver them to two analytical instruments inside the rover. The turret of tools at the end of the arm -- in the far left in this image -- also has a color camera, an element-identifying spectrometer, a scoop for collecting soil samples and a brush for cleaning rock surfaces.

The circle in the white box at the top of the remote sensing mast is the laser and telescope of an instrument that can zap a rock up to about 7 meters (23 feet) away and determine its composition from a spark generated by the laser. Just below that circle is the square opening for a wide-angle camera that is paired with a telephoto camera (the smaller square opening to the left) in the rover's primary scientific camera, which can take high-definition color video with both "eyes." Another camera on Curiosity will record scenes of the landing area during the spacecraft's descent. Other science instruments will monitor the weather, the natural radiation environment on Mars and the possibility of water bound into minerals in the ground.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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