Scheduled to launch in the fall of 2011, Mars Science Laboratory is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. Mars Science Laboratory is a rover that will assess whether Mars ever was, or is still today, an environment able to support microbial life. In other words, its mission is to determine the planet’s “habitability.”
Mars Science Laboratory will study Mars’ habitability
To find out, the rover will carry the biggest, most advanced suite of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the martian surface. The rover will analyze dozens of samples scooped from the soil and drilled from rocks. The record of the planet’s climate and geology is essentially “written in the rocks and soil” — in their formation, structure, and chemical composition. The rover’s onboard laboratory will study rocks, soils, and the local geologic setting in order to detect chemical building blocks of life (e.g., forms of carbon) on Mars and will assess what the martian environment was like in the past.