GREENBELT, Md. (WUSA) -- Hundreds of scientists and spectators gathered at NASA's Goddard Spaceflight Center early Monday morning to watch the Curiosity rover live up to its name.
"It's really just getting at our curiosity as human beings as we look out at the universe and look for what else is out there," said Melissa Trainer, a research space scientist at NASA Goddard.
Trainer is just one of the Goddard scientists that's spent nearly a decade developing the instrument at the core of Curiosity's mission.
"SAM is the Sample Analysis at Mars and it is basically the chemistry laboratory that is on the Curiosity rover," said Trainer.
The SAM instrument is one of the main reasons that Curiosity is so different from previous Mars rovers. Spirit and Opportunity could only look at the soil, but Curiosity can actually dig in and take real soil samples.
"Spirit and Opportunity, those rovers were geologist," said Trainer. "Curiosity is much more of a geo-chemist. It has the ability to scoop up the rocks, take them in, and then break them down."
In order to break down the individual elements in the Martian soil, it takes some serious sensors designed by another locally-based entity: ATK in Arlington.
"ATK was responsible for developing the suite of sensors that will look at the samples collected by the robot arm and analyze the surface of Mars," said Jim Armor with ATK.
Together, SAM and her sensors will have at least two years to try to find carbon-based molecules, evidence that life could have existed on the red planet.
"We've been spending years getting ready for what are we going to do when the first data gets back," said Trainer. "Now the real adventure begins."