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One of the most sophisticated space vehicles ever made inches along the rocky landscape, aluminum wheels grinding like a spoon in a garbage disposal.

Here in the Mars Yard at the
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, what passes for the Red Planet looks like a vacant lot in Hesperia. The vehicle being tested, a replica of the latest Mars rover that will soon be crawling around up there, looks like a giant mechanical insect — six wheeled legs, an articulating arm and a pair of blue camera lenses like eyes peering from a boxy head.

This month,
NASA's most ambitious Mars rover mission to date is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., aboard an Atlas V rocket. It's a $2.5-billion gamble scientists hope will give unparalleled insights into how Mars evolved and whether it ever could have supported life.

It has to get there first.  Let's hope the Mars curse stopped at Russia's recently failed Grunt vehicle. To read more, click here.