DENVER (CBS4) – Friday morning the latest Mars rover blasted off from Cape Canaveral. It’s mission is to try and determine once and for all if there is life on Mars.

There were a lot of people in Colorado watching the $2 billion spacecraft take off.

It’s called “Curiosity” and it’s 10 times bigger than any previous rover. Landing it on the surface of the red planet requires the skill of an NFL quarterback.

“You can think of Tim Tebow throwing a pass, he has to lead the receiver right? We have to lead Mars,” George Sowers said.

Sowers is with United Launch Alliance. The company, based in Centennial, built the Atlas 5 rocket to be used in the upcoming liftoff from Cape Kennedy.

Looking live at the rocket on the launch pad was a reminder the Atlas family is the most reliable in the world. The Atlas 5 has had 27 successes in a row without a single failure.

The spacecraft will take 9 months to reach Mars. There a parachute is deployed, but protecting it from burning up will be a heat shield built locally by Lockheed Martin.

“There’s a hover craft that hovers over the surface of Mars and lowers the rover by what’s called a sky crane,” Sowers said.

Once on the surface, the Mars science laboratory goes to work powered by a nuclear battery.

“It has little arms and scoops and drills that can sample the soils and rocks of Mars,” Sowers said.

The mission has one goal — determine if the red planet either once did or still does support life. It’s one of NASA’s most ambitious and expensive.

Curiosity is NASA’s first launch to Mars in 4 years, and the first flight of a Martian rover in 8 years. It should reach the red planet in August.


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