Atlas 5 sends Mars Science Lab "Curiosity" to Mars!
11/26/11 ~ 10:02am

Homepage       Launch Photos       Purchase Prints!

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is on its way to the Red Planet. An Atlas 5 rocket, flying in one of its biggest and most powerful configurations, lifted off from Cape Canaveral's Pad 41 November 26 with the $2.5 billion, car-sized, nuclear-powered rover nicknamed
Curiosity and sent it out of Earth orbit towards Mars without a hitch. One of the most expensive planetary missions ever launched, MSL is due to touch down at a location known as Gale Crater on August 5, 2012, using a daring, first-of-its-kind landing system that employs a 'sky-crane' which will lower the rover from its descent stage to the surface (as opposed to the thruster or airbag landing systems of past Mars landers).

Curiosity is more than five times as massive and ten times more powerful scientifically than its predecessor rovers, Spirit & Opportunity (which landed in 2004), and is expected to operate a minimum of two years using its Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (RTG). Compare that to the 90-day designed lifetimes of the three other Mars rovers (of which, of course, Spirit & Opp lasted years beyond their designed lifetime -- Opportunity is still going strong eight years after touchdown)!

The Atlas 5 rocket flew in the 541 configuration for the first time, with one SRB less than the maximum five it can hold.

Atlas V vehicle on Pad 41

<--- Juno to Jupiter                                    MUOS-1 Navy comsat --->
This failed camera could have been pretty: