Nov 26, 2011 1 Comment ›› Pat Dollard
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A rover of “monster truck” proportions zoomed toward Mars on an 8½-month, 354 million-mile journey Saturday, the biggest, best equipped robot ever sent to explore another planet.
NASA’s six-wheeled, one-armed wonder, Curiosity, will reach Mars next summer and use its jackhammer drill, rock-zapping laser machine and other devices to search for evidence that Earth’s next-door neighbor might once have been home to the teeniest forms of life.
More than 13,000 invited guests jammed the Kennedy Space Center on Saturday morning to witness NASA’s first launch to Mars in four years, and the first flight of a Martian rover in eight years.
Mars fever gripped the crowd.
NASA astrobiologist Pan Conrad, whose carbon compound-seeking instrument is on the rover, wore a bright blue, short-sleeve blouse emblazoned with rockets, planets and the words, “Next stop Mars!” She jumped, cheered and snapped pictures as the Atlas V rocket blasted off. So did Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Roger Wiens, a planetary scientist in charge of Curiosity’s laser blaster, called ChemCam.
Surrounded by 50 U.S. and French members of his team, Wiens shouted “Go, Go, Go!” as the rocket soared into a cloudy sky. “It was beautiful,” he later observed, just as NASA declared the launch a full success.
A few miles away at the space center’s visitor complex, Lego teamed up with NASA for a toy spacecraft-building event for children this Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The irresistible lure: 800,000 Lego bricks.