The Curiosity Mars Science Laboratory Rover (abbreviated as MSL) by NASA, is currently the largest Mars Rover ever launched, and took-off from the surface of the Earth, at November 26th, 2011, towards Mars.
The launch vehicle was an Atlas V 541 (AV-028), and launched from the Cape Canaveral LC-41 launch site, in Florida, USA.
The landing on the surface of Mars, is planned to happen Monday, August 6th, 2012 at 05:31 AM UTC.
The specific landing location is set to be Aeolis Palus, in Gale Crater, near the Aeolis Mons / Mount Sharp. At that time it will have been traveling through the Space, for about 686 Earth days (or 668 Martian sols).
A “Mars Rover” is basically an automated motor-vehicle, which is programmed to do a specific job, while propelling around the surface. Previous models were using an airbag-assisted landing, but since the new Curiosity Mars Rover has such a massive size and weight, it’s now done with help from a rocket-powered sky crane instead.
The Curiosity Mars Rover, is about the size of a normal car, weights about 1-ton, and costs around US$2,5 billion. It flies with a speed of about 21250 km/h (13200 m/h) towards Mars, and is programmed to use it’s built-in rocket-powered sky crane to lower the speed to zero, in only seven minutes. These seven minutes includes three phases, entry, descent, and landing. Although it’s also known as the “seven minutes of terror”, because of its nervous and nail-biting time.
When the Mars Rover’s wheels reaches the surface, the rocket is programmed to automatically fly away, and land in a safe distance from the Mars Rover itself.
The mission of the Curiosity Mars Rover, is to investigate and collect samples of the Red Planet’s environment. These jobs is done, with the help from 10 built-in tools and instruments, which makes it able to dig, snap HD-pictures, analyze chemical properties of the Martian soil, and rock samples. Further more it is able to study minerals, and last but not least shoot a laser beam unto a solid object (such as a rock), and collect its’ chemical composition.
All this collected information, will be used to conclude, whether or not there are or have been, some sort of life on the planet.
Wikipedia.org and Space.com
Read my post, about the landing: http://kaspernymand.com/2012/08/06/touchdown-of-msl-curiosity-on-mars/