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Aug 06, 2012 at 11:35am IST

NASA's rover Curiosity to land on Mars today, search for traces of life

New Delhi: NASA's first-ever nuclear powered Mars Rover is scheduled to touch down on the Red Planet at 11 am on Monday morning.

It took $2.5 billion to build Curiosity. At one ton, it's the heaviest man-made object to land on another planet. With five kilos of Plutonium dioxide on board, it's also the first nuclear powered one. Also aboard is eighteen times more equipment than any Mars rover ever built, an entire science laboratory.

Curiosity isn't searching for Martian life. But it is looking for left over traces. Curiosity will land in an area that might once have had running water. With lasers, cameras, brushes and sieves, it will search soil billions of years old, for traces of sulphur compounds, clay and most importantly, carbon, a basic building block of life.

But before it can do all that, Curiosity must land safely. It uses the largest parachute ever built, about half the size of a football field. And for the first time ever, it will be winched down to the surface from an eight-engine rocket jetpack. Success won't be easy. In the past 50 years, there have been 44 missions to Mars. Very few have survived.