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Curiosity: More Than A Rover, Space Lab To Analyze Mars For Signs Of Life

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Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineers James Wong (L) and Errin Dalshaug (R) examine a full size engineered model of the Mars rover Curiosity at JPL in Pasadena, California August 2, 2012. NASA said Thursday all was well ahead of its nail-biting mission to Mars, with its most advanced robotic rover poised to hunt for clues about past life and water on Earth's nearest planetary neighbor. On a two-year journey to seek out signs of environments that once sustained life, the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory and the largest and most sophisticated rover ever built, Curiosity, is set for August 6, 2012. (Photo credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/GettyImages)

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) engineers James Wong (L) and Errin Dalshaug (R) examine a full size engineered model of the Mars rover Curiosity at JPL in Pasadena, California August 2, 2012. NASA said Thursday all was well ahead of its nail-biting mission to Mars, with its most advanced robotic rover poised to hunt for clues about past life and water on Earth’s nearest planetary neighbor. On a two-year journey to seek out signs of environments that once sustained life, the landing of the Mars Science Laboratory and the largest and most sophisticated rover ever built, Curiosity, is set for August 6, 2012. (Photo credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/GettyImages)

swike250 Jackie Swike
Anchor/Reporter Jackie Swike is a native Hoosier, a graduate of...
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CHICAGO (CBS) — An Adler Planetarium astronomer who said he’d go to Mars “in a heartbeat,” said he’s thrilled by what the rover Curiosity might find on the red planet.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Jackie Swike reports, Dr. Mark SubbaRao, head of Adler’s Space Visualization Laboratory, said Curiosity is more than just a rover, it’s a sophisticated space lab that will analyze the geographical history of Mars, looking for signs of life.

The rover landed on the planet on Monday.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Jackie Swike reports

“It’s in a crater,” SubbaRao said. “It’s going to climb up this mountain in the middle of the crater; it’s going to step through 200 million years of history on Mars, and that will really give us a more complete picture of our entire solar system.”

SubbaRao said barring an equipment malfunction, the rover could last for decades with its nuclear power source.

He said three rovers set up in 2004 were only supposed to last three months, and one of them still works.

Adler Planetarium astronomer Dr. Mark Hammergren says he can’t wait to hear what Curiosity will find that the last rover could not.

“That rover was able to read one page of the Martian history.  The Curiosity rover will be able to read several volumes of that diary,”  says Hammergren.  “It will tell us if there was ever life on Mars.  It will tell us, probably pretty definitively, whether the conditions existed that might have supported life.”

Curiosity traveled 352 million miles to get to Mars before a parachute slowed the rover down and a crane lowered it to the surface.  It will use antennas, high-resolution cameras and a drill to explore the layers of the planet.

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