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Curiosity Starts Nine Month Journey to Mars

NASA/JPL-Caltech(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) -- NASA's Curiosity was successfully launced to Mars on Saturday at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

Curiosity is a 2,000 pound nuclear-powered mobile chemistry lab loaded with x-ray sensors, 3-D cameras and lasers.  Its mission is to look for evidence of habitats that might have once supported life. The rover is the largest and most complex ever sent to another planet.

Curiosity will travel 354 million miles to Mars over nine months.  It will land in a giant crater and spend nearly two earth years exploring the landscape using ten different sensors. The rover will also measure harmful radiation on Mars that could be a big problem for humans that might one day travel to the red planet.

The complicated landing will use technology never tried before. The spacecraft will hit the Martian atmosphere at more that 13,000 miles per hour. A jetpack called a skycrane will fire rockets and gently lower the rover into a giant crater. Engineers say everything has to work perfectly.

Just getting to Mars has never been easy. NASA engineers are well aware that the history of Mars exploration is littered with disappointment. Out of 40 Mars probes launched from Earth, 26 have failed. Just this month Russia tried launching a Mars mission, which is now stalled in Earth orbit.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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