Washington Post: For the first time since the Viking missions of the 1970s, the US is sending a rover—Curiosity—to Mars for the primary purpose of finding the building blocks of life. The Viking landers returned a picture of a cold, dead Mars that could at no time have supported organic material. However, recent data from Mars-orbiting observatories and from the two geology-focused rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have provided significant evidence for the existence of liquid water at various points of Martian history. Curiosity, which will be landing in a crater that may contain extensive mineral deposits, will be able to drill deeper than previous rovers and perform a wide range of analyses on gathered samples. Because it is three times heavier than earlier rovers, a new, automatic landing system has been developed to deploy the robot. During the “seven minutes of terror” that constitutes the landing sequence, NASA scientists will have no control over the craft. The success or failure of the mission could have a significant impact on congressional budget debates set to begin soon after the scheduled date of the landing.