Richard Cook is Deputy Project director for MSL, the Mars Science Lab
The Mars Science Lab is a $2.3 Billion, car-sized, heavy rover, scheduled to launch in August. Nicknamed "Curiosity" it is designed to settle the question "was/is there life here?" Among other experiments, it has an arm, a laser zapper, long range-long lifetime, and an RTG (nuclear) generator for power and warmth on its "butt" instead of the problematic solar panels used up to this point.
The major point of concern and some controversy, is the unique landing method, whereby a "mothership" stops in mid-air and lowers the rover to the ground with cables. This ingenious "sky crane" is unproven at Mars, and promises to be a nail-biter.
We won't have to wait long; Curiosity is en route and scheduled for an August 6 landing.