|NASA Launches Super-size Mars Rover|
The world's biggest extraterrestrial explorer is on its way to Mars. NASA on Saturday launched the six-wheeled, one-armed robotic rover, nicknamed CuriosityCuriosity Cam takes you inside the clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., so you can watch the next Mars rover being built. NASA astrobiologist Pan Conrad, whose carbon compound-seeking instrument is on the rover, wore a bright blue, short-sleeve blouse emblazoned with rockets, planets and the words, "Next stop Mars!" She jumped, cheered and snapped pictures as the Atlas V rocket blasted off. So did Los Alamos National Laboratory's Roger Wiens, a planetary scientist in charge of Curiosity's laser blaster, called ChemCam.
Surrounded by 50 U.S. and French members of his team, Wiens shouted "Go, Go, Go!" as the rocket soared into a cloudy sky. "It was beautiful," he later observed, just as NASA declared the launch a full success.
A few miles away at the space center's visitor complex, Lego teamed up with NASA for a toy spacecraft-building event for children this Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The irresistible lure: 800,000 Lego bricks.
The 1-ton Curiosity — 10 feet long, 9 feet wide and 7 feet tall at its mast — is a mobile, nuclear-powered laboratory holding 10 science instruments that will sample Martian soil and rocks, and with unprecedented skill, analyze them right on the spot.
It's as big as a car. But NASA's Mars exploration program director calls it "the monster truck of Mars
This is the third astronomical mission to be launched from Cape Canaveral by NASA since the retirement of the venerable space shuttle fleet this summer. The Juno probe is en route to Jupiter, and twin spacecraft named Grail will arrive at Earth's moon on New Year's Eve and Day.
Unlike Juno and Grail, Curiosity suffered development programs and came in two years late and nearly $1 billion over budget. Scientists involved in the project noted Saturday that the money is being spent on Earth, not Mars, and the mission is costing every American about the price of a movie.
"I'll leave you to judge for yourself whether or not that's a movie you'd like to see," said California Institute of Technology's John Grotzinger, the project scientist. "I know that's one I would."