A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover lifts off from Launch Complex 41at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011. The rocket will deliver a science laboratory to Mars to study potential habitable environments on the planet. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
As the latest Mars rover, Curiosity, wings its way to the red planet, employees at a local firm will be watching closely.
The unmanned Atlas V Rocket carrying Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., early Saturday with cameras designed by San Diego-based company Malin Space Science Systems.
What NASA calls the "monster truck of Mars" will make a 354-million mile trip for nearly a year and is expected Curiosity to land on Mars in August of 2012.
The rover is part of the Mars Science Laboratory, which will pioneer new landing technology when it touches down inside the planet's Gale Crater.
Weighing 2,000 pounds, Curiosity will take samples of the red planet’s soil and rocks, searching for evidence that life could be - or once was - possible on Mars.
As part of its $2.5 billion mission, the rover will search for evidence that microbial life on Mars was once possible, including research to see if the planet contains the chemical ingredients for life.
Curiosity is the size of a car and is equipped with a 7-foot arm with a jackhammer that will be bale to drill into Mars.