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Mars Science Laboratory

Mars Science Laboratory mission graphic

Phase: Operating

Launch Date: November 26, 2011

Secondary Project Page -

Program(s):Mars Exploration

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Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover Animation (Full Version) - June 23, 2011
This unnarrated 11-minute animation depicts key events of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, which launched on November 26, 2011 and will land a rover, Curiosity, on Mars in August 2012.

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover Animation

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission will set down a sophisticated, large, mobile laboratory, called Curiosity, using a precision landing that will make many of Mars' most intriguing regions viable destinations for the first time. Once on the ground, the Mars Science Laboratory would analyze dozens of samples scooped from the soil and cored from rocks as it explores with greater range than any previous Mars rover. The robotic laboratory will carry the most advanced payload of scientific gear ever used on Mars' surface, a payload more than 10 times as massive as those of earlier Mars rovers. Its mission: investigate the past or present potential of Mars to support microbial life.

The Mars Science Laboratory  will arrive at Mars in early August 2012. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, builder of the Mars Science Laboratory, is engineering the rover to roll over obstacles up to 65 centimeters (25 inches) high and to travel up to about 200 meters (660 feet) per day on martian terrain.

The overarching science goal of the mission is to assess whether the landing area ever had or still has environmental conditions favorable to microbial life. The investigations to support that assessment include:

  • Detecting and identifying any organic carbon compounds.
  • Making an inventory of the key building blocks of life.
  • Identifying features that may represent effects of biological processes.
  • Examining rocks and soils at and near the surface to interpret the processes that formed and modified them.
  • Assessing how Mars' atmosphere has changed over billions of years.
  • Determining current distribution and cycles of water and carbon dioxide, whether frozen, liquid or gaseous.

This mission is part of the Mars Exploration Program.

Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision for the Mars Science Laboratory Mission

Here, in two Acrobat® PDF files, is the Final EIS for the MSL mission. Both files contain navigation bookmarks.

Volume 1 (4,644 KB) Including:

  • Abstract, Executive Summary, Table of Contents
  • Chapter 1 (Purpose and Need for the Action)
  • Chapter 2 (Description and Comparison of Alternatives)
  • Chapter 3 (Description of the Affected Environment)
  • Chapter 4 (Environmental Consequences)
  • Chapter 5 (List of Preparers)
  • Chapter 6 (Agencies, Organizations and Individuals Consulted)
  • Chapter 7 (Index), and
  • Chapter 8 (References)

Volume 2 (3,223 KB) Including:

  • Appendix A (Glossary of Terms)
  • Appendix B (Effects of Plutonium on the Environment)
  • Appendix C (Environmental Justice Analysis)
  • Appendix D (Responses to Public Review Comments), and
  • Appendix E (Public Review and Comment Meetings)

NASA's Record of Decision for the MSL mission was signed by Dr. Mary L. Cleave, Associate Administrator, Science Mission Directorate, on December 27, 2006. NASA's decision is to complete preparations for launch of the MSL mission during September - November 2009, and to operate the mission using an MMRTG as the primary power source for the rover. Here in a PDF file is the complete Record of Decision.

Though there is no change to the configuration or scope of the MSL mission, the delay in launch and change in time of year prompted a review. In considering the launch of the MSL mission during late 2011, NASA reassessed the factors that might affect the environmental impact analysis presented in the existing FEIS for the MSL mission. The modified record of decision documents NASA’s decision to complete development and preparations for launch of the proposed MSL mission during November – December 2011, and to operate the mission using an MMRTG as the primary power source for the rover.

Launch Approval Received

On March 25, 2011, and in accordance with paragraph 9 of Presidential Directive/National Security Council Memorandum 25 (PDINSC-25), NASA requested nuclear safety launch approval for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission. On September 12, 2011, Dr. Holdren, the President’s Science Advisor, sent NASA a letter formally approving Mars Science Laboratory for launch.

MSL Approval Letter
MSL Launch Approval