This artist's concept depicts the rover Curiosity, of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, as it uses its Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) instrument to investigate the composition of a rock surface. ChemCam fires laser pulses at a target and views the resulting spark with a telescope and spectrometers to identify chemical elements. The laser is actually in an invisible infrared wavelength, but is shown here as visible red light for purposes of illustration.
The NASA Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, seen during final mobility testing on June 3 inside the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission logo takes shape as technicians install it on the exterior of an Atlas V rocket's payload fairing inside the Payload Hazardous Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Tucked inside the fairing is the compact car-sized rover, Curiosity.
The Atlas V rocket's payload fairing containing the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft stands securely atop the transporter that carried it to Space Launch Complex 41.
An Atlas V541 launch vehicle -- selected for the Mars Science Laboratory mission because it has the right liftoff capability for the heavy weight requirements of the rover and its spacecraft -- will carry NASA's Curiosity rover on its way to Mars.
NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft during its cruise phase between launch and final approach to Mars. The spacecraft includes a disc-shaped cruise stage (on the left) attached to the aeroshell. The spacecraft's rover (Curiosity) and descent stage are tucked inside the aeroshell.
This is an artist's concept of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft approaching Mars.
As it approaches the Martian atmosphere, thrusters will fire to slow the craft on its way to the planet's surface.
This artist's concept depicts the interaction of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft with the upper atmosphere of Mars during the entry, descent and landing of the Curiosity rover onto the Martian surface.
A parachute systems will then deploy to further slow the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity.
This is an artist's concept of NASA's Curiosity rover tucked inside the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft's backshell while the spacecraft is descending on a parachute toward Mars. The parachute is attached to the top of the backshell. In the scene depicted here, the spacecraft's heat shield has already been jettisoned.
An artist's concept of the rover and descent stage for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft during the final minute before the rover, Curiosity, touches down on the surface of Mars.
This rover itself will then be lowered by sky crane to the Martian surface.
This artist's concept depicts the moment immediately after NASA's Curiosity rover touches down onto the Martian surface.
The mobile Curiosity robot will then be ready to scan for Mars' past or present ability to sustain microbial life.
The rover's head or mast rises to about 7 feet above ground level, about as tall as a basketball player. It supports two remote-sensing instruments: One for stereo color viewing of surrounding terrain and material collected by the arm and a laser that vaporizes material from rocks up to about 30 feet away to determines their composition.
An artist's concept of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (left) serves to compare it with Spirit, one of NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rovers.
This artist's conception of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory portrays use of the rover's ChemCam instrument to identify the chemical composition of a rock sample on the surface of Mars.
NASA's next Mars rover, Curiosity, drives up a ramp during a test at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., on Sept. 10, 2010. The rover, like its smaller predecessors already on Mars, uses a rocker bogie suspension system to drive over uneven ground. Technicians and engineers in clean room garb watch the test drive carefully inside JPL's Spacecraft Assembly Facility.
Testing of the cruise stage for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory in August 2010 included a session in a facility that simulates the environment found in interplanetary space.
The team developing the landing system for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory tested the deployment of an early parachute design in mid-October 2007 inside the world's largest wind tunnel, at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California.
After traveling 8 and a half months and 352 million miles, NASA's most technically advanced rover ever lands on the Red Planet early overnight Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012.