Nasa has launched a giant one-tonne rover nicknamed 'Curiosity' into space which is due to arrive on Mars in August next year.
The rover, which is tucked inside a capsule, departed from Florida at 10.02am (3.02pm GMT) on an Atlas 5 rocket. The machine will take eight-and-a-half months to reach its destination, touching down on 6 August 2012.
Once landed, the robot will travel Mars to scour soil and rocks for any signs of life. It will look for past or current environments on the Red Planet capable of supporting microbial life.
Nasa expected a communication from the spacecraft around an hour after the machine took off. Experts will then be able to tell if the the machine is still intact and survived the launch. The Atlas capsule flight, travelling at 10km/s, lasted around 45 minutes, after which it ejected the Curiosity rover towards the Martian planet.
The rover is estimated to land at a deep depression on Mars called Gale Crater, which according to the BBC, contains a central mountain rising 5km above the plain. The site was chosen due to previous pictures of sediments which would have been deposited by large volumes of water.
The rover, also known as Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), is part of a $2.5bn (£1.6bn) two-year mission to study rocks, soils and atmosphere in the crater.