The Next Mars Rover: A First Look

With eyes on a Mars landing in the summer of 2012, NASA has successfully put the next version of the lander vehicle through its paces. The rover, which is called `Curiosity,' has been tackling obstacles at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The suspension system on NASA Mars rover Curiosity easily accommodates rolling over a ramp

The Curiosity features the same six-wheel, rocker-bogie suspension system found on earlier Mars rover. Its wheels measure 20 inches n diameter, which are double the height of the wheels on the Spirit and Opportunity rovers which are now on the Red Planet.

NASA says that the vehicle is expected to explore Mars for a full Martian year, roughly equivalent to two Earth years. As with other rovers, this one will be scooping up samples from the Martian surfaces as well as from rocks. But what's also notable about this rover generation is that the Curiosity will be tasked with the mission of helping determine whether the planet was able to support life.

Test operators monitor how NASA's Mars rover Curiosity handles driving over a ramp during a test.

The Curiosity is a technical marvel. Radioisotope thermoelectric generators will generate electricity from decaying plutonium and the rover will be able to reach a maximum speed of 300 feet per hour (though it's more likely to move across the Martian surface at a much slower clip.) The Curiosity also comes with a steep price tag, with cost overruns previously estimated at being close to 30%. You can find out more about the mission here. Also, check out the video below with the Curiosity taking its first, albeit brief, test run.