Testing of the cruise stage for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory in August 2010 included a session in a facility that simulates the environment found in interplanetary space.
In this Aug. 24, 2010, photograph, a spacecraft technician at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., prepares for a test in the space simulation chamber. Solar panels are visible on the upper surface of the cruise stage. The testing chamber, 25 feet in diameter and 76 feet high, can simulate the cold, vacuum environment of space. Its 37 xenon lamps, each with about 25,000 watts, mimic the spacecraft's exposure to intense light from the sun.
During the Mars Science Laboratory's trip between launch from Earth in late 2011 and final approach to Mars in August 2012, the cruise stage will perform necessary functions for the spacecraft, such as generating electricity from sunshine, firing thrusters for trajectory adjustments, regulating the temperature of the rover inside its aeroshell and communicating with Earth.
JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.