The Mars Science Laboratory rover, better known as Curiosity, was launched by NASA on November 26, 2011, and in the wee hours of August 6, 2012 (1:31 a.m. ET), will make its touchdown on the red planet. It's a next-generation rover that's much larger, and far more advanced, than any of its predecessors.
Headed to the Gale Crater, the rover's primary objectives include exploring the potential habitability of Mars, past or present; studying the climate and geology; and collecting data for a future manned mission to the planet.
Curiosity is about twice as long as and five times heavier than predecessors Spirit
, and is carrying more than 10 times the mass of scientific instruments. Every mission to Mars turns up more and more data, and Curiosity is sure to uncover exciting details about the Red Planet. Over the years, hundreds of stunning images have been returned from Mars, and we're just weeks away from the next batch of awe-inspiring visuals.
This amazingly sharp view of Mars was obtained following the refurbishing of NASA's Hubble Space Telescope in 1997. It was taken with Hubble's Wide Field Planetary Camera - 2 (WFPC2), just before Mars opposition, when the red planet made one of its closest passes to the Earth, coming within 60 million miles of us.