The rover comes equipped with an array of sophisticated instruments capable of analyzing samples of soil, rocks and atmosphere on the spot and beaming results back to Earth.
The principal target of its exploration is a 3-mile- (5-kilometer) high tower of layered rock, named Mount Sharp, which is believed to have formed from sediment that once filled Gale Crater. The mound, which stands a short distance from Curiosity's landing site near the center of the crater, is seen by Mars scientists as a potential gold mine of geologic study.
An initial review of data collected from Curiosity's arrival on Mars revealed that it blasted through the planet's thin atmosphere at 24 times the speed of sound, pulling the equivalent of 11 times the force of Earth's gravity.
"If you were a human riding on board, it'd be a little bit of a rough ride, but fortunately Curiosity is made of some tough stuff," said Gavin Mendeck, who oversaw the rover's entry. It landed just 1.5 miles from the center of its projected landing zone.
The rover's chief engineer, Rob Manning, came closest to predicting the exact spot where Curiosity ended up touching down. He also oversaw some of the team's readiness testing.
"We think he might have rigged the system," descent and landing operations lead Allen Chen joked during Friday's news briefing.
(Additional reporting by Irene Klotz; Editing by xxxxx)