Giant Nasa rover launches to Mars
"I hope we have more work than the scientists can handle. When we get to the surface, I expect them all to be overrun with data they've never seen before. I expect the public to have images, vistas that they've never seen before either."
- Doug McCuistion, Nasa's Mars exploration programme director
Nasa has launched the most capable machine ever built to land on Mars.
It is being aimed at a deep equatorial depression called Gale Crater, which contains a central mountain that rises some 5km (3 miles) above the plain below.
The crater was chosen as the landing site because satellite imagery has suggested that surface conditions at some point in time may have been benign enough to sustain micro-organisms.
This included pictures of sediments at the base of the peak that were clearly laid down in the presence of abundant water.
MSL is equipped with 10 sophisticated instruments to study the rocks, soils and atmosphere in Gale Crater.