The American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is to launch, in late 2011, its most extensive mission to Mars to date.
NASA is building the new nuclear-powered Curiosity rover, which is going to be sent to space later on this year, based on the successes of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, reported www.zdnet.co.uk.
The mission of the new rover is to study the atmosphere and geology of Mars; as a result, it will be fitted with an array of 10 instruments, including a powerful laser that vaporizes rocks from a distance and a device that analyses samples for organic compounds.
The 2.8-meter-long Curiosity will be twice as long and four times as heavy as its Spirit and Opportunity predecessors, NASA says.
The final testing phases of Curiosity were performed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, in March.
The rover has also undergone several operational sequences in simulated Martian conditions inside a 7.6m-diameter space simulation chamber, filled with liquid nitrogen and cooled to -202° Fahrenheit.
Giant light panels in the chamber simulated the Mars sunshine.