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NASA readies its new Mars rover

NASA says it's ready to launch a supersized Mars rover later this month to search for evidence of life on the red planet.

Curiosity, a car-sized robotic rover, is sitting on top of an Atlas V rocket awaiting its scheduled Nov. 25 liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, near the Kennedy Space Center where shuttle missions used to take off from.

The one-ton rover will land near Mars' Gale Crater and explore it for two years.

"Gale gives us a superb opportunity to test multiple potentially habitable environments and the context to understand a very long record of early environmental evolution of the planet," said John Grotzinger, project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. "The portion of the crater where Curiosity will land has an alluvial fan likely formed by water-carried sediments. Layers at the base of the mountain contain clays and sulfates, both known to form in water."

The rover will carry cameras and soil samplers.

Curiosity is much larger than the rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which crept around the surface of Mars for years longer than planned. Spirit was declared dead in May after lasting six years.

"This mission advances technologies and science that will move us toward missions to return samples from, and eventually send humans to, Mars," said Doug McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program at NASA.

A Russian Mars probe isn't faring too well. ABC News reported on Thursday that Russia's space agency was struggling to save its Phobos-Grunt spacecraft after it failed to launch properly. It is stranded in low Earth orbit, and ABC says Russian officials are unable to communicate with the craft, which was supposed to bring back soil from the Martian moon Phobos.

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// October 30
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