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Friday, 2 December 2011

Curiosity rover proclaims good health on way to Mars

"It's a new dawn, it's a new day, and I'm feeeeelin' good..." So reads the Twitter feed of Curiosity, NASA's Martian rover, which is en route for the Red Planet and has sent a signal to NASA officials confirming that it is in good health.

The rover is part of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft. The signal arrived shortly after MSL separated from the Atlas V rocket that launched it from Cape Canaveral, Florida at 10:02 local time on 26 November.

Curiosity is five times bigger than its predecessors, Spirit and Opportunity. Due to arrive on the red planet on 6 August 2012, this behemoth is equipped with state-of-the-art tools that will allow it to search for signs of life, and to probe the habitability of its landing site, Gale crater. This site finally was chosen earlier this year after a vigorous debate regarding various rival options: sediment on Gale crater contains clays, a sure sign that it was exposed to liquid water at some point.

First, however MSL must make the 567-million-kilometre journey. Perhaps most risky of all, on arrival, the craft will perform an intricate procedure for depositing Curiosity on Mars. Unlike previous rovers, which relied on airbags, Curiosity will be gently lowered by crane. For more on Curiosity's mission and to download our free rover poster, read "Mega-rover ready to hunt for life signs on Mars".

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