In the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, half of the Atlas V payload fairing for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission hovers above the floor during operations to raise it into a vertical position. The fairing has been uncovered, and preparations are under way to clean it to meet NASA's planetary protection requirements. At left is the other half of the fairing, still uncovered.
The fairing will protect the spacecraft from the impact of aerodynamic pressure and heating during ascent. Although jettisoned once the spacecraft is outside the Earth's atmosphere, the fairing must be cleaned to the same exacting standards as the laboratory to avoid the possibility of contaminating it. MSL's components include a compact car-sized rover, Curiosity, which has 10 science instruments designed to search for evidence on whether Mars has had environments favorable to microbial life, including the chemical ingredients for life. The unique rover will use a laser to look inside rocks and release its gasses so that the rover’s spectrometer can analyze and send the data back to Earth. Launch of MSL aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket is planned for Nov. 25 from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. For more information, visit http://www.nasa.gov/msl. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett