On Thursday NASA officials announced they are ready to launch their next-generation rover to the red planet on an ambitious new mission to continue science where it’s cousins Spirit and Opportunity left off, and more specifically to search for evidence regarding whether or not Mars had environments favorable for microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life, as well as look for habitable environments to help pave the way for future human explorers.”Preparations are on track for launching at our first opportunity, MSL is ready to go”, said Pete Theisinger, MSL Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JLP) in Pasadena California. The Mars Science Laboratory, or MSL, with it’s rover Curiosity is set to launch atop an Atlas-V rocket on November 25th from Cape Canaveral’s SLC-41. The launch window extends from 10:25 a.m. to 12:08 p.m. EST, with the launch period for the mission extending through December 18th.Scheduled to land on the Martian surface in August of 2012, the 2,000 pound 6-foot tall mobile robotic laboratory will be the largest most complex piece of equipment ever to be placed on another planet. Twice as long and five times as heavy as earlier rovers Spirit & Opportunity, Curiosity will carry a set of 10 scientific instruments, including a laser-firing instrument to study targets from a distance atop a 7-foot high mast and a 7-foot long arm to study targets up-close, as well as analytical instruments inside the rover to determine the composition of rock & soil samples acquired with the arm’s drill & scoop. Other instruments will characterize the environment, including weather & radiation that will affect future human missions. Advertisement Launching to the red planet is only the beginning. The encapsulated spacecraft will hit the thin Martian atmosphere at roughly 12,000 mph, essentially becoming entombed in a fireball caused by friction as it takes dead aim at the surface. Once the spacecraft slows to a comparably slow crawl of 1,000 mph at about 10 kilometers high it’s parachutes will deploy, it’s heat shield will be disgarded, and the descent stage of the spacecraft will take over – firing 8 propulsion engines to slow the spacecraft’s descent to the surface. When it gets close enough, the descent stage will hover and act as a sort of crane, gently lowering the rover to the ground on tethers.Curiosity’s destination is the base of a 3-mile high mountain located inside Gale Crater. ”Gale gives us a superb opportunity to test multiple potentially habitable environments and the context to understand a very long record of early environmental evolution of the planet”, said John Grotzinger, MSL project scientist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. ”The portion of the crater where Curiosity will land has an alluvial fan likely formed by water-carried sediments. Layers at the base of the mountain contain clays and sulfates, both known to form in water”.”We’ve known now for decades that there’s evidence for rivers and even possible evidence for a lake in the crater we’re going to,” said Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity deputy project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.”This is a Mars scientist’s dream machine. It’s the most capable scientific explorer we’ve ever sent out to another planet.”The mission will have a virtual presence of 200 scientists from around the world, including scientists from France, Canada, Russia, Spain. Curiosity is not designed to answer whether or not life has existed on Mars, but its investigations for evidence about prerequisites for life will steer future missions towards those answers.