A test operator in clean-room garb holds umbilical cables for NASA's Mars rover Curiosity during the rover's first drive test, on July 23, 2010. NASA will launch Curiosity in late 2011 for arrival at Mars in August 2012.

A test operator in clean-room garb holds umbilical cables for NASA's Mars rover Curiosity during the rover's first drive test, on July 23, 2010.

NASA's Mars Science Laboratory Project will launch Curiosity in late 2011 for arrival at Mars in August 2012. The mission will study whether an intriguing area of Mars has offered environmental conditions favorable for supporting microbial life and for preserving evidence of whether life existed there.

On Mars, of course, Curiosity will not need an umbilical cord. It will communicate by radio, and it will be powered by a radiosotope thermoelectric generator -- essentially a nuclear battery that reliably converts heat to electricity -- to be installed just before launch.

Technicians and engineers conducted the drive test in the Spacecraft Assembly Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for the NASA Science Mission Directorate.

View all Images