A full scale model of the Mars Science Laboratory's (MSL) Curiosity rover is pictured at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calfiornia August 2, 2012. The rover is set to land on Mars in the late evening of August 5, 2012.
Credits: REUTERS/FRED PROUSER
The Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS), developed by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), was specially designed for the mission to analyze the chemical composition of rocks and soil on Mars.
Roughly the size and shape of a Rubik's cube, the APXS is positioned on the end of the rover's robotic arm. The instrument will move in close to a sample and bombard it with alpha particles and X-rays, then study the energy emitted from the sample in response. It will take two to three hours to fully analyze a sample to determine what elements it's made of.
Previous iterations of the APXS were used during Mars Exploration Rover and Mars Pathfinder missions.
The Curiosity rover is scheduled to land at 1:31 a.m. ET on Monday. Its mission is expected to last at least one Martian year -- the equivalent of two Earth years -- with the goal of discovering whether Mars is, or has ever been, a "hospitable place for life," CSA said.
The landing will be broadcast live on CSA's website, asc-csa.gc.ca, with commentary from the agency's director of space exploration projects, Stephane Desjardins.
Two CSA scientists recorded videos on their thoughts about the mission, which can also be found on the website.
William Shatner and Wil Wheaton narrate videos that explain the mission, which can be found on NASA's website, nasa.gov.