NASA began a historic voyage to Mars with the Nov. 26 launch of the Mars Science Laboratory, which carries a car-sized rover named Curiosity. With much fanfare, Curiosity lifted-off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard an Atlas V rocket occurred at 10:02 a.m. EST (7:02 a.m. PST). Curiosity's ambitious science goals are among the mission's many differences from earlier Mars rovers. It will use a drill and scoop at the end of its robotic arm to gather soil and powdered samples of rock interiors, then sieve and parcel out these samples into analytical laboratory instruments inside the rover. Curiosity carries 10 science instruments with a total mass 15 times as large as the science-instrument payloads on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Some of the tools are the first of their kind on Mars, such as a laser-firing instrument (people in the know call it ChemCam) for checking the elemental composition of rocks from a distance, and an X-ray diffraction instrument for definitive identification of minerals in powdered samples.
ChemCam team members were busy the entire week leading up to launch participating in mission and team meetings, as well as conducting public outreach. On Tuesday afternoon, ChemCam team member Dr. Horton Newsom presented an overview of the geologic history of Mars and ChemCam PI Dr. Roger Wiens presented an overview of the MSL mission to a workshop attended by librarians from across the US. Thursday morning, members of the ChemCam team participated in the first ever international soccer tournament held in conjunction with the launch of a Mars mission. Following Friday's ChemCam team meeting, Jen Blank, Nathan Bridges, and Nina Lanza recorded a podcast for the 365 Days of Astronomy called A ChemCam Conversation. This podcast can be heard on the 365 Days of Astronomy website. The busy week of activities culminated with the successful launch of Curiosity on Saturday morning.