The rover's mission is to search for early Martian life forms.
Shortly after Curiosity lands, UC Davis geology professor, Dawn Sumner and a team of scientists will use the rover to identify what kinds of soil and rocks are at the landing site. That will dictate their next steps.
Sumner says the evidence they are looking for is very, very small, "If life was on Mars, we think that it was microscopic. So, on early Earth, we know we had bacteria essentially everywhere for the last several billion years. But, it's really hard to find that evidence in the rocks."
The rover has a drill and a scoop to collect samples and a chemistry lab to process them. Sumner says she hopes to find evidence of bacteria in the rocks.
The Curiosity is scheduled to land at the base of a three-mile-high mountain called Mount Sharp. Sumner was picked for the mission because of her experience searching for life forms in Antarctica -the place on earth that may be most like Mars, "The most important science questions are at the bottom this three-mile-high mountain and so that's the prime area of science. The rocks and layers in that mountain are one of the main reasons we chose to send this mission to Gale Crater."
She will direct the rover's activities from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena until November.