In the pre-launch phase, Mars Science Laboratory came together from a collection of individual instruments and parts to an incredibly capable and sophisticated rover and spacecraft. It was all thanks to countless and demanding hours of effort from a workforce of thousands of people. From concept to creation, this rough and tough rover ultimately made its way from the cleanroom where it was built at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to its final earthly destination, Cape Canaveral, Florida.
A vital stage for the mission was the assembly, test and launch operations phase. Following individual testing, instruments were shipped to the cleanroom and mated with the rover and spacecraft. As everything began to take shape, the entire structure was put through rigorous environmental, electronics, software and systems testing.
The hardware was first boxed and trucked from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to March Air Reserve Base in nearby Riverside. There the components were loaded onto an Air Force C-17 transport plane for the journey east.
The spacecraft components were so large that two trips were made. In May 2011, the rover's aeroshell — the protective covering for the trip to the Red Planet — and the cruise stage, which would guide it to Mars, arrived at Kennedy first. The following month, the rover itself made the flight, accompanied by the rocket-powered descent stage that would fly the rover during the final moments before landing on Mars.
The rover and other spacecraft components underwent more assembly and testing at Kennedy Space Center before mission staff stacked them and fueled the onboard propulsion systems.
Although arrival in Florida was a significant milestone for the mission, there was still considerable work to be done to prepare Curiosity for launch. A team of engineers and technicians spent countless hours in the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility cleanroom at Kennedy Space Center reassembling the spacecraft and conducting even more tests.
While Curiosity and its spacecraft components were getting readied for launch, United Launch Alliance personnel at Kennedy Space Center worked to get the Atlas V-541 rocket, chosen to launch Curiosity, ready for takeoff.
At Kennedy, the "backshell powered descent vehicle" containing Curiosity was placed inside the backshell and closed off with the spacecraft's heat shield. The heat shield and the spacecraft's backshell formed an aeroshell that encapsulated and protected the rover from the intense heat it experienced during the final leg of the trip to Mars and the harrowing descent through the Martian atmosphere.