Atlas rocket carrying Mars Science Lab moved to launch pad

CBS News

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL--United Launch Alliance hauled an Atlas 5 rocket carrying NASA's Mars Science Laboratory rover to the launch pad Friday for final preparations before blastoff Saturday on a showcase mission to look for signs of past or present habitability on the red planet.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket is hauled to launch pad for final flight preparations. (Credit: United Launch Alliance)

The short trip from the vertical processing hangar to pad 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station began at 8:02 a.m. EST (GMT-5) and one hour later, the vehicle was "hard down" on its launch stand.

Liftoff is targeted for 10:02 a.m. Saturday, the opening of a one-hour 43-minute launch window. Forecasters are continuing to predict a 70 percent chance of good weather Saturday and Sunday.

The $2.5 billion nuclear-powered Mars Science Laboratory is the most sophisticated spacecraft ever built to explore the surface of another world. If all goes well, the 1-ton rover will be lowered to the surface of Mars next August to begin at least two years of geology field work inside a 100-mile-wide crater to look for organic compounds and signs of past or present habitability.