Curiosity Rover Begins 300 Million-Mile Journey to Mars

BY Jenny Marder  November 26, 2011 at 11:33 AM EST



Update November 26| The Mars Science Laboratory launched into space at 10 am on Saturday, beginning its nine-month, 354-million-mile journey to Mars. Upon arrival, the one-ton spacecraft will hurl through the Mars atmosphere and deploy a massive parachute and an advanced landing system to lower the Curiosity rover to the surface of the Red Planet.

This newest rover is slated to land on the planet’s Gale Crater, which Richard Cook, deputy project manager of the Mars Science Laboratory mission, calls the “Grand Canyon of Mars.”

Hari Sreenivasan caught up with Cook this week from his post at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology to discuss the Curiosity rover, its hovering rocket landing system, its sophisticated instruments and built-in chemistry lab. The goal of this ambitious mission: to find organic material, methane, carbon-rich soil, signs of water — in other words, evidence of extraterrestrial life.