Just some links:
From a December 18th, 2012 mission status report:
‘NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Project is using Curiosity during a two-year prime mission to assess whether areas inside Gale Crater ever offered a habitable environment for microbes. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.’
-Unlike Earth with its dynamic interior and tectonic plates, relatively strong magnetic field, thick and dynamic atmosphere etc., Mars is a bit like a time capsule. With just over 50% the diameter of Earth, about 38% the gravity, and less than 1% the atmosphere we’ll be able to get a much better picture of what happened during the formation of our solar system about 4 1/2 billion years ago as it’s much less disturbed. The trip up the rock face in Gale Crater over the next few years is like a trip back through time. What happened to Mars? Did the Earth and Mars have common experiences?
Some more Mars facts.
A December 4th, 2012 livestream overview of the mission. Ashwin Vasavada’s talk starts about min 15:25, and is pretty easy to follow for non-scientists and lay people like myself: