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NASA launches Mars rover

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NASA launches Mars rover
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is prepared for the launch of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity Rover Spacecraft on its sixteen month journey to the Red Planet from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on November 25, 2011. Launch is scheduled from Complex 41 during a 103 minute window opening at 10:02 AM on Saturday morning, Nov. 26. UPI Photo/Joe Marino-Bill Cantrell | License Photo

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., Nov. 26 (UPI) -- NASA launched its latest unmanned Mars rover Saturday in Florida in an effort to scour the planet's surface for signs of microbial life.

"It is absolutely a feat of engineering, and it will bring science like nobody's ever expected," Doug McCuistion, head of NASA's Mars exploration program, told Space.com. "I can't even imagine the discoveries that we're going to come up with."

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The Atlas 5 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral with the rover, nicknamed Curiosity, aboard, the Web site reported. It will take eight and a half months for Curiosity to make the 354 million-mile journey to the surface of Mars.

NASA scientists expect the 1-ton rover to land on the planet the morning of Aug. 6, the BBC reported. Curiosity should land in Gale Crater, which contains a mountain about 3 miles high. Satellite imagery has shown sediments in this area were laid down by water, which could have supported micro-organisms.

Curiosity, which is part of a $2.5 billion mission, has 10 sophisticated instruments on board to study rocks, soil and the atmosphere, the BBC reported. The funding will cover the first two years of operation, though the rover has enough power to keep it running for about a decade.

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