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Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Atlas V rocket carrying the Curiosity Mars rover is launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on November 26, 2011.
NASA / Bill White

ONWARD TO MARS (AGAIN)! At 7:02 AM, Pacific Standard Time today, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft departed from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on an 8-plus month journey to the Red Planet. MSL will arrive at Mars around August 6, 2012...deploying the Curiosity rover onto the Martian surface at Gale Crater and begin a minimum of 2 years studying its surroundings and seeing if the environment is or was ever hospitable to microorganisms. In other words, Curiosity will check to see if Mars is the second world in this solar system (guess what the first planet is) that is or was ever friendly to life.

Posing with the Curiosity Mars rover and its descent stage behind me, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory on June 6, 2011.

Other than the fact it’s always exciting whenever we launch a spacecraft to another world, there’s another reason why I’m glad Curiosity is finally out in deep space. Onboard the rover are two microchips that (combined) bear the names of 1.25 million people...including Yours Truly. Most of the names were submitted via the Internet between March of 2009 and June of this year, while 20,000 handwritten signatures were digitized after being collected via guestbooks at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Pasadena, California (where Curiosity was built). Other than submitting my name on the Web, I had the opportunity to provide my own signature when I attended the JPL Open House last May. I also had the privilege of taking a picture with the rover, so-to-speak, at the Spacecraft Assembly Facility during the JPL Tweetup a month later (shown above). Totally awesome. The autographs of President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and several high-ranking NASA officials such as administrator Charles Bolden are also onboard Curiosity.

My participation certificate for the Mars Science Laboratory mission.

Below are images of MSL prior to it separating from the Centaur upper stage about an hour after launch this morning. I’m definitely glad that NASA made the effort to provide visual proof that this ambitious mission is well on its way to Mars. Now all that needs to be done is wait for visual proof after Curiosity safely touches down on the Red Planet next summer. Carry on.

The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft is about to separate from its Centaur upper stage about an hour after launch, on November 26, 2011.
NASA TV

The MSL spacecraft separates from its Centaur upper stage about an hour after launch, on November 26, 2011.
NASA TV

The MSL spacecraft floats away from its Centaur upper stage about an hour after launch, on November 26, 2011.
NASA TV

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