Mars Rover Friday Aboard Atlas V Rocket

Mars Rover Friday – Mars will receive one of the most sophisticated space rovers ever made as it sets off for a new mission on Friday. The vehicle being tested is a replica of the latest vehicle that will soon be crawling around the Red Planet. It looks like a giant mechanical insect – six wheeled legs, an articulating arm and a pair of blue camera lenses like eyes peering from a boxy head.

NASA’s most ambitious Mars rover mission to date is scheduled to lift off Friday morning from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard an Atlas V rocket. It’s a $2.5 billion gamble scientists hope will give unparalleled insights into how Mars evolved and whether it ever could have supported life.

The Mars Science Laboratory – nicknamed Curiosity – was developed at JPL in La Canada Flintridge, Calif., and will be the fourth rover to traverse the planet’s harsh terrain. But unlike the earlier Mars rovers – Sojourner, Spirit and the still-cruising Opportunity – Curiosity will do more than look for evidence of water.

Curiosity is a robot astrobiologist. During a mission expected to last at least two years, the rover will use a battery of scientific instruments to analyze Mars’ geology and atmosphere, looking for the elements and chemical compounds that are the building blocks of life.

Scientists hope the information Curiosity gathers will exponentially increase their understanding of Mars and bring us closer to answering the most profound and tantalizing of questions: Could life exist beyond Earth?

“Humans are hard-wired to want to know the answer to that,” said Bill Nye, executive director of the Planetary Society, the Pasadena, Calif.-based nonprofit that advocates for space exploration. “If we found life on Mars, it would change everybody’s view of our place in space.”

Curiosity will take 8.5 months to travel the 354 million miles to Mars – and two years to cover about 14 miles of its surface.