NASA launches super-size Mars rover to red planet

November 26, 2011 - 10:06 AM

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — The world's biggest extraterrestrial explorer is on its way to Mars.

NASA on Saturday launched the six-wheeled, one-armed robotic rover, nicknamed Curiosity. An unmanned rocket blasted off with the spacecraft from Cape Canaveral.

The journey to Mars will take 8½ months and cover 354 million miles.

Curiosity weighs a ton and is the size of a car. It's a mobile, nuclear-powered laboratory holding 10 science instruments that will sample Martian soil and rocks, and analyze them right on the spot. There's a drill as well as a stone-zapping laser machine.

Curiosity will spend two years looking for evidence that Mars may once have been — or still is — suitable for microbial life.

The mission costs $2.5 billion.

Thousands of NASA guests converged on Kennedy Space Center for the launch.