NASA will launch a unique car-sized Curiosity rover on Saturday on a 2-year mission to Mars to search for traces of life on the red planet, NASA said on its web site.
The Mars Science Laboratory is the largest and most capable rover going to another planet.
The six-wheeled robot, which weighs 900 kg (2,000 pounds), will take off from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 7:30 a.m. EST. It is expected to land on Mars in August 2012 and operate for 23 months, or one Mars year.
Unlike its predecessors, which landed inside huge balloons and bounced along the surface until they came to a halt, Curiosity will be suspended by a sky crane that will gently lower the robot to the surface. The platform will then fly away and crash elsewhere on the surface of the red planet.
The rover will carry the Mars Science Laboratory to the planet where it will take and analyze samples of rock from a mound on the floor of Gale Crater. The crater is a basin with layered deposits that had formed over time and could be a key to the development of Mars.
The project is worth $2.3 million.
The red planet has also aroused interest among Russian space researchers. Their latest attempt to study Mars moon dust failed on November 9 when the Phobos-Grunt spacecraft got lost on a low-Earth orbit due to engine failure. The contact was lost until Thursday when the ESA (European Space Agency) in Australia spotted the spacecraft. Russian space researchers will try to contact the station on Friday afternoon Moscow time.