On November 26, MSL, carrying its Curiosity rover, blasted into space. At last, two years late, it was on its way to the Red Planet. Thirteen thousand onlookers watched it soar from Cape Canaveral. It would take eight months for the spacecraft to journey the 352 million miles to Mars. Its goal was to search for evidence that microscopic life might once have lived on Mars—or be capable of living there now. It also contained sensors that would detect radiation affecting the ability of astronauts to land there some day.64 Administrator Bolden declared, “We are very excited about sending the world’s most advanced scientific laboratory to Mars. MSL will tell us critical things we need to know about Mars, and while it advances science, we’ll be working on the capabilities for a human mission to the red planet and to other destinations where we’ve never been.”65
Everyone connected with the mission was elated, but they also knew the risk of failure. A Russian probe to Phobos, a Mars moon, had launched on November 9 and failed to escape Earth’s orbit. The U. S. spacecraft was now on a trajectory to Mars. But the landing, several months hence, would be daunting. And what would the rover find? Time would tell. The future of the Mars program—and maybe NASA—depended greatly on the answer.