Nov. 26, 2011 — On schedule at 10:02 a.m. EST Saturday, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., carrying NASA's Mars Science Lab (MSL) nicknamed "Curiosity."
The photo above shows the moment after ignition as the rocket, framed by four lightning rods, began its successful journey with Curiosity off Earth.
"ULA is extremely proud to have launched the Curiosity rover on its 9-month journey to the red planet," said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Mission Operations. "The technological innovations on this extremely sophisticated MSL mission are most impressive and we are all looking forward to the operations and scientific learning on Mars starting next August."
After landing on Mars in August 2012, MSL's prime mission will last one Martian year (nearly two Earth years). Researchers will use the rover's tools to study whether the landing region has environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life.