A Mars rover nicknamed "Curiosity" lifted off successfully from Cape Canaveral Saturday morning. The mission will study the chemical makeup of air and soil on Mars using instruments that have been designed and built in Maryland.
The suite of instruments is called the Sample Analysis at Mars -- or SAM. It was developed at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. SAM is designed to analyze samples of rock and soil, as well as the air around it.
Melissa Trainer, a research scientist at Goddard, says NASA is trying to determine whether life was ever present on Mars.
"All we know about habitable environments are what we see on Earth," says Trainer. "So it's important to kind of expand our focus and understand what habitability can mean on another planet."
Trainer says they'll conduct status checks, but won't receive the real data until they land on the surface. Goddard scientists will be waiting to analyze the information streaming back to Earth.
The rover is expected to touch down on Mars in August.