PASADENA (CBS/AP) — The world’s biggest extraterrestrial explorer is on its way to Mars.

KNX 1070’s Ed Mertz Reports From JPL Headquarters In Pasadena

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The six-wheeled, one-armed robotic rover, blasted off from Cape Canaveral at 7:02 a.m. Saturday.

The journey to Mars will take 8½ months and cover 354 million miles.

The rover, Curiosity, is managed by Pasadena-based Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

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It weighs a ton and is the size of a car. It’s a mobile, nuclear-powered laboratory holding 10 science instruments that will sample Martian soil and rocks, and analyze them right on the spot. There’s a drill as well as a stone-zapping laser machine.

Curiosity is expected to look for evidence that Mars may once have been or still is suitable for microbial life. It is capable of drilling into rocks to take core samples to be chemically analyzed.

The $2.5 billion mission is expected to last two years although NASA’s two earlier rovers – Spirit and Opportunity – continued working far beyond their anticipated operating lives.

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