ARLINGTON, Va., Nov. 26, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- ATK (NYSE: ATK) technologies and capabilities will play mission-critical roles throughout the entire journey of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which successfully launched earlier today aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V launch vehicle from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. MSL carries "Curiosity" NASA's largest Mars rover to date. The one ton rover – with a payload 10 times more massive than earlier Mars rovers - will land near the base of a layered mountain inside Mars' Gale Crater for a two-year mission. Curiosity will gather data to help assess whether Mars ever had an environment capable of supporting microbial life. ATK's Clearfield, Utah and Iuka, Miss. facilities built the lightweight composite heat shield, interstage adapter, and boat tail sections of the Atlas V. These critical structures range in size from 10 to 18 feet in diameter. ATK products will also support the flight to Mars, the challenging landing on the Martian surface, and the scientific exploration mission of the rover. ATK's Commerce, Calif. facility designed and built five propellant tanks that will power cruise thrusters to guide the spacecraft on its journey to the Red Planet, and the descent thrusters that will help it land safely on the planet's surface. ATK engineering teams in Pasadena, Calif. and Beltsville, Md. provided key technical support to develop a number of the science instruments aboard the mobile laboratory. They provided the detail design engineering and supported the fabrication, integration, and test of the rover's Remote Sensing Mast Deploy Mechanism as well as mechanical and thermal design and fabrication for the cornerstone Chemistry/Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument. CheMin is an x-ray diffraction and fluorescence instrument designed to identify and quantify the minerals in rocks and soils. Another major contribution included the design and development of a suite of instruments named Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM). These instruments will analyze samples of material collected and delivered by the rover's robotic arm. ATK also provided support in the development of the thermal subsystem that will protect Curiosity from the harsh environment it will encounter on the Martian surface. At a design review, it was described as the most challenging thermal design ever seen.