The Virginia Air & Space Center, visitor center for NASA Langley Research Center, is currently displaying a a full-scale model of NASA's Curiosity rover -the largest mobile spacecraft ever launched to another planet. Curiosity is the centerpiece of the Mars Science Laboratory mission which landed the rover safely on Mars on August 5.
During its two-year mission, Curiosity will analyze dozens of samples drilled from rocks or scooped from the ground using an extensive payload of scientific gear. Curiosity is about twice the size and five times as heavy as the extremely successful twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which have been on the Red Planet since early 2004. Curiosity's target is the lower slopes of Mount Sharp, a mountain of layered rocks rising 18,000 feet above the floor of Gale Crater. Observations of this region from orbit by earlier Mars missions indicate liquid water was present here at some point in the past. Curiosity is expected to assess whether the crater has ever had or still has environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life.