NASA’s Curiosity heads for Mars, and opens a new chapter for humankind

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity. NASA/JPL-Caltech

It seems we’re about to come one step closer to putting man (and woman) on Mars. Is this exciting? Of course it is. Nothing fires the imagination quite like the prospect of walking around on a planet other than our own.

All going well, at 2:02am (AEDT) on Sunday the Mars Science Laboratory will launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida. It’s payload is a remarkable 899 kilogram, six-wheeled Martian rover called Curiosity.

The purpose of Curiosity is to determine the habitability of Mars. The mission, lasting one Martian-year (98 Earth weeks), will begin on August 5 next year. It’s a journey of scientific import, of course, but also of much wider human significance.

Curiosity will carry out the prospecting stage in a step-by-step program of exploration and reconnaissance, mining evidence for a definitive answer to whether life has ever existed on Mars.

The cruise stage of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft being prepared NASA