WASHINGTON, Aug. 5 (Xinhua) -- NASA's Mars rover Curiosity is set to touch down in the Gale Crater area of Mars early Monday.
Compared with previous Mars rovers, Curiosity with 10 science instruments on board is undoubtedly the embodiment of the great progress in multiple technologies used in the exploration of the Red Planet.
With a body weight of over 900 kg, Curiosity is five times heavier than its rover predecessors Spirit and Opportunity, both of which made their Mars landing in 2004.
The heavyweight Curiosity will use for the first time an auxiliary landing gear called "sky crane." The rocket-powered device will enable Curiosity to land within a smaller target area than previous Mars missions.
Despite concerns over its reliability, the sky crane actually constitutes a better landing system in terms of safety, said John Grotzinger, lead scientist on the Curiosity project.
In 1997 Mars rover the Sojourner made a successful landing on the Red Planet and explored an area of 12 meters around its landing spot and its total traveling distance on Mars was about 100 meters.
In stark contrast, Curiosity's designed route extends over 19 km and it is set to climb a mountain on the Mars surface.
Curiosity also has a much advanced power system. Solar panels used by previous Mars rovers are susceptible to seasonal changes on Mars and could only provide limited energy for the rovers. As a nuclear-powered vehicle, Curiosity is equipped with nuclear-fuel batteries with a designed working life of 14 years.
Unlike previous Mars rovers, Curiosity has a drilling device that could allow it to take samples from inside rocks.
For a geologist studying rocks, there is nothing more exciting than getting samples from within the rocks, deputy project scientist Joy Crisp said.
In addition, the chemistry and mineral analytical instruments on board Curiosity use X-ray diffraction for the first time to determine the composition of rock and soil samples collected by the rover.
The much sophisticated design of Curiosity makes it possible for the vehicle to carry out much complicated tasks such as measuring the relative abundances of different elements in rocks and soils, assessing radiation levels on Mars surface and detecting possible harms for future astronauts to land on the planet.
The rover, described as a "flagship NASA project as important as Hubble Space Telescope" by NASA's Mars Exploration Program Director Doug McCuistion, will also conduct further exploration to find if Mars could be inhabitable for human beings and look for clues of planetary changes.