NASA Launches Probe to Search for Life on Mars

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An unmanned Atlas 5 rocket blasted off from Florida toward Mars to look for clues on what could sustain life on the Red Planet. The expectation is high that stunning images will be found.

An unmanned Atlas 5 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Saturday.

It was launching a 2.5 billion US dollar nuclear-powered NASA rover toward Mars to look for life habitats there.

[Doug McCuistion, Director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program]:
"We have started a new era of exploration to Mars with this mission. Not just technically but scientifically as John said. I hope we have more work than the scientists can actually handle."

The car-sized rover nicknamed Curiosity is expected to touch down on Aug. 6, 2012.

This will begin two years of detailed analysis of a 96-mile wide impact basin near the Martian equator called Gale Crater.

The mission's goal is to determine if Mars has or ever had environments to support life.

It is the first astrobiology mission to Mars since the 1970s-era Viking probes.

[Doug McCuistion, Director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program]:
"Once we get to the surface I expect them to be overrun with data that they've never seen before. I expect the public to see images -- vistas -- that we've never seen before either. Down in the bottom of Gale Crater when we land those first images are just going to be stunning, I believe. It will be like sitting in the bottom of the Grand Canyon I think."

The 20-story-tall booster built by United Launch Alliance lifted off from its seaside launch pad at 10:02 a.m. local time, soaring through partly cloudy skies.

It headed into space to send NASA's Mars Science Laboratory on a 354-million mile, nearly nine-month journey to the 'Red Planet.'

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