A launch vehicle provides the velocity needed by a spacecraft to escape Earth's gravity and set it on its course for Mars.
|Height with payload:
||191 feet (58 meters)
|Mass, fully fueled, with spacecraft on top:
||About 1.17 million pounds (531,000 kilograms)
When mission planners are considering different launch vehicles, what they take into consideration is how much mass each launch vehicle can lift into space.
A two-stage Atlas V-541 launch vehicle lifted the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The vehicle was provided by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp.
The Atlas V-541 vehicle was selected for the Mars Science Laboratory mission because it has the right liftoff capability for the heavy weight requirements and rockets in the same family have successfully lifted NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and New Horizons missions.
Atlas V rockets are expendable launch vehicles (ELVs), which means they are only used once.
The three numbers in the 541 designation signify a payload fairing, or nose cone, that is approximately 5 meters (16.4 feet) in diameter; four solid-rocket boosters fastened alongside the central common core booster; and a one-engine Centaur upper stage.