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NASA nuclear Mars tank launch delayed by one day

Will search for red-planet life, and burn it with a laser

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The launch of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which contains the Curiosity rover, has been delayed by a day to November 26.

NASA said today that it was taking the extra time to allow the team to remove and replace a flight termination system battery.

Liftoff will now take place sometime during the one hour and 43 minute launch window starting at 15.02 GMT on November 26, from Cape Canaveral. Moving the United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster onto the launch pad will now happen on November 25.

The MSL will carry Curiosity, the largest ever Mars rover, which is expected to make "the most intensive examination of the surface of the Red Planet ever attempted" over two years, according to NASA.

The nuclear-propelled space truck, which is about the size of a small SUV, has got cameras, a robotic arm, a drill and even a laser that can vaporise bits of rock at a distance.

Its expected to land on Mars in August next year, carried by the propulsive lander known as a 'sky crane'. You can find a detailed look at the Curiosity's specs here, and the groovy NASA vid above shows how the landing on Mars and subsequent exploration is expected to proceed.

The project has cost the space agency $2.5b, "including $1.8b for spacecraft development and science investigations".

The mission of the MSL including Curiosity, and NASA's other Mars mission MAVEN, scheduled to launch in late 2013, is to discover if there was, is or could be life on the Red Planet.

"The ultimate driver for these missions is the question, did Mars ever have life?" Paul Mahaffy of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre, said in a statement.

"Did microbial life ever originate on Mars, and what happened to it as the planet changed? Did it just go extinct, or did it go underground, where it would be protected from space radiation and temperatures might be warm enough for liquid water?"

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission will orbit Mars and take measurements of the upper atmosphere. It will try to discover what caused the Martian atmosphere and water to be lost to space, making the climate increasingly inhospitable for life.

On the ground, Curiosity will be using Goddard's Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite to look for evidence of water, carbon or other life building blocks in the Martian soil and atmosphere. ®

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