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Time to get your Mars mojo working


An Atlas 5 rocket stands within its protective Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida during preparations for Saturday's scheduled launch of the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

NASA's $2.5 billion, car-sized rover is ready for an epic Mars mission. Are you? Here's how to get connected with Curiosity.

The one-ton Curiosity rover is the central payload for the Mars Science Laboratory mission, which is due for launch at 10:02 a.m. ET Saturday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 41 in Florida, atop an Atlas 5 rocket. At today's pre-launch news conference, Colleen Hartman, NASA's assistant associate administrator for science, said the laboratory was "locked and loaded" for liftoff.

The space agency expects the launch to bring 13,500 spectators onto its grounds, including about 150 Twitter users who are filling the Twitterverse with tweets as they attend briefings and tours. To tune in the tweeps, do a search on the #NASAtweetup hashtag, and be sure to follow Mars Curiosity on Twitter and Facebook.


A stereo image shows the Curiosity rover during launch preparations. Use red-blue glasses for the 3-D effect.

Press kits for the launch are available online from NASA and United Launch Alliance.

NASA TV is due to air a news conference on the subject of "Why Mars Excites and Inspires Us" at 1 p.m. ET Friday, and will begin live coverage of Saturday's countdown and launch at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday. An alternative to the NASA.gov video stream is the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Ustream video. Saturday's launch window extends until 11:45 a.m. ET, and even if storms or technical glitches force a postponement, NASA can try for liftoff all the way up to Dec. 18.

After launch, the coverage will settle down quite a bit. But you can keep track of Mars Science Laboratory's progress via NASA's Web portal, and study up on Gale Crater, the scientifically intriguing area where the rover is due to be dropped to the surface on the night of Aug. 5-6, 2012. Curiosity's mission is intended to last at least a Martian year (686 Earth days). NASA says the mission's primary aim is to "investigate whether the landing region has had environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life, and favorable for preserving clues about whether life existed."

This could get interesting.  


A stereo image shows Gale Crater, Curiosity's destination. Use red-blue glasses to see the 3-D effect.

Other resources:

More about the mission:

Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.