NASA will launch the new Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Wednesday. This satellite will scan Mars for sites to land more robotic explorers in the next decade.
"It's time we start peeling back the onion layer and start looking at Mars from different vantage points," said project manager James Graf of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
Like the three current spacecraft flying around Mars _ including a European orbiter _ the latest probe will seek evidence of water and other signs that the planet could have hosted life. The $720 million mission, which launches from Cape Canaveral, Fla., will also serve as a communications link to relay data to Earth.
The primary mission of the orbiter ends in 2010 but researchers say the craft has enough fuel to last until 2014. More details at WashingtonPost.