On Aug. 6, 2012, if all goes well, NASA's Mars Science Laboratory will touch down to tackle a new set of questions about whether there was once life on Mars.
A pair of predecessor rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, as well as a fleet of orbiting spacecraft have laid the groundwork for the mission, amassing an impressive body of evidence for past water on the surface of Mars. Those findings are key, for without water scientists aren't sure life can exist. With water, we know it's possible.
WIDE ANGLE: BIG QUESTIONS FOR 2012
The Mars Science Laboratory, nicknamed Curiosity, is designed to nail down some specifics about the water, such as how long it existed in liquid form and whether it was too acidic to support life. But it also breaks new ground with the first studies of the Red Planet since NASA's '70s-era Viking Mars landers looked for other ingredients for life, namely organics.
Curiosity's landing site, a location near the equator known as Gale Crater, was selected after years of careful deliberation.